11/02/2019 08:35 GMT | Updated 11/02/2019 09:45 GMT

Rape Victims 'At Risk' As Police Don't Put Suspects On Bail, Charity Warns

A new legal challenge could force a change in police practice.

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Thousands of suspects are being released without bail conditions, prompting a legal challenge.

The release of hundreds of thousands of suspected rapists, domestic abusers and other offenders without safeguards to protect victims is to be challenged.

A “supercomplaint” by a women’s justice charity will challenge the practice of releasing potentially dangerous offenders without bail restrictions, which could lead to them committing further crimes.

The Times newspaper reported on Monday that it had learnt that suspected offenders were being “routinely” invited for interview by police voluntarily, rather than being arrested and then released on bail.

It follows changes to rules which were implemented after a string of high-profile suspects were kept on bail for months and even years before investigations were dropped.

Now a formal suspect can only be bailed, pre-charge, for a maximum of 28 days. Detectives must reach a standard of evidence to be able to charge a suspect with a crime.

The Centre for Women’s Justice is leading the effort to challenge the practice, with a complaint sent to three police watchdogs.

Nogah Ofer, a lawyer who is compiling the supercomplaint, said that bail used to be the standard in rape cases, but that local crisis centres said it is rarely used now.

Ofer said she was aware of cases where suspects have intimidated witnesses or gone on to commit further offences against them.

“The women’s services who have provided information for our supercomplaint have reported suspects contacting victims after being interviewed by police,” Ofer told HuffPost UK.

“In cases where there has been a history of coercive control they are manipulating or pressuring women to withdraw from supporting the prosecution which means cases usually get dropped.  

“In one case that I am currently involved with, the suspect came to the victim’s house and committed a serious assault after being released without bail and the police claimed that there was nothing they could do as he had been interviewed under voluntary attendance.”

Ofer added that the fact that a suspect is not on bail often means that people assume there is no criminal investigation.

“It is harder for women to access support from state bodies such as housing departments and social services, and to obtain legal aid for family law court cases,” Ofer said.

More than 3,000 people were released under investigation for offences such as murder and rape by 12 police forces between April and June 2017, according to the BBC.

In the three-month time frame, 6,683 suspected violent and sexual offenders were released without further action, 2,430 were charged and 3,149 released under investigation, the broadcaster found last year.