Sex attack suspects skip bail - The Argus

Thirty-two suspected sex attackers are on the run after being given bail for crimes in Sussex, shock figures reveal today.

The suspects were arrested for a range of offences between March 2005 and March 2007.

They were given police bail but then failed to return to stations as required.

The 32 are among 807 suspects at large in the county after being arrested for crimes including violent attacks and burglaries as well as drug and firearms offences.

A further 502 suspects who had actually been charged with crimes and bailed to reappear at court are also on the run. More than half of these offenders had been charged with driving offences - 262.

Ninety-five were wanted for violent offences, 59 for theft, 20 for drug crime, nine for burglary, three for sex offences and 64 for other unspecified offences.

The figures were released to The Argus through the Freedom of Information Act. The number of offenders who have skipped police bail makes up just two per cent of the 36,577 people bailed by Sussex Police in the last two years.

About one per cent of suspects failed to appear at court over the same period.

A Sussex MP has called for an overhaul of the way offenders are traced when they fail to answer police bail or appear before courts.

Nick Herbert, shadow minister for police reform and MP for Arundel and South Downs, said police should not be burdened with finding people who have skipped bail.

He said: "It's totally unacceptable that people who have committed serious offences should be at large.

"I have proposed that separate bail companies should be employed to track down people who have jumped bail and relieve police of that burden."

He called for tougher penalties for those caught after breaking bail. He said: "It's important the public should have confidence in the criminal justice system and this kind of thing undermines it."

Last September Mark James, 47, formerly of Burgess Hill, was sentenced to three years and four months by a court, in his absence, for intentionally infecting his former partner with HIV.

He failed to appear at any court hearings and remains at large.

Margaret Ellis is director of services at Life Centre, Chichester. The centre helps people who have been victims of sexual assault and rape.

She called for a tighter monitoring process of suspects and said more of them should be placed on remand.

She said: "Victims can have fears about their own safety. There's such a long time between making statements and getting cases to court and sometimes bail seems a little flimsy."

She said alleged sex offenders should either be remanded or be monitored more closely while on bail.

Superintendent Graham Bartlett, of Brighton and Hove division of Sussex Police, said "All of the people who fail to answer bail are brought to the attention of duty command in 24 hours and specific action is taken for them to be arrested," he said.

He said a warrant enforcement bureau had recently been set up in Worthing, which had been successful in apprehending suspects who failed to appear at court.

Superintendent Bartlett said: "This has improved things dramatically."

Michelle Taylor