THOUSANDS of potentially dangerous suspects remain free as they remain “under investigation” by police.

Critics say it is a sign that Government cuts to police funding has left detectives and investigators strapped for time and having to release suspects without charging them.

Sussex Police say a rise in the council tax precept will mean more resources for investigations, and say that some investigations are very complex and take time to complete.

The term “released under investigation” means potential criminals are still suspected, but they are not given bail conditions which would prevent them from going to victims or force them to sign on at a police station, for example.

Figures from a Freedom of Information request made by The Argus show that in Sussex, more than 1,000 suspects were still under investigation for suspected crimes for more than a year.

It means potentially dangerous arsonists, robbers, drug dealers, and violent criminals were still on the streets with no bail conditions.

Indeed, some 57 suspects remained “under investigation” for more than two years in the county, for 99 offences.

In total, figures show more than 22,000 suspects were released under investigation in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The vast majority were either charged or faced no further action.

Hove and Portslade MP Peter Kyle said the figures, which run until the end of November 2019, are “astounding”.

He said: “I can only feel that leaving cases under investigation satisfies neither the victim, the alleged perpetrator, our local residents, or the police themselves.”

Previously, Judge Stephen Mooney at Lewes Crown Court has asked how cases can take so long to go through the system.

He said he had to cut criminals’ prison sentences because of the amount of time they had waited for cases to reach court.

The figures showed suspects involved in more than 10,000 violence offences were released under investigation in 2017, 2018 and 2019, meanwhile there were more suspects released for more than 2,600 sexual offences, and 1,500.

Former Brighton Police divisional commanders Graham Bartlett and Kevin Moore revealed some of the reasons why forces release suspects under investigation.

Mr Bartlett said it followed news from a district judge and public concern that suspects were being constantly re-bailed without being charged.

Mr Moore, who retired in 2009, was more critical. He said: “It’s horrendous. I did not realise it was as bad as that.

“In the old days, we would never have had that many people out on police bail. Suspects did not go for months and months and months.

“We did not bail suspects ad infinitum. There is no doubt that suspects have been bailed and rebailed because police have not dealt with the cases.

“Clearly there are problems with police numbers, I also think there are problems with supervision.

“What are the people supervising those officers doing to get them prosecuting people quickly?

“In my day, we would have been kicking people’s backsides. I think some of it is down to a lack of expertise. Some are promoted far too early, without the real experience and capability to do the job.”

His concerns are shared by MP Peter Kyle. He said: “I know from hearing from residents in my surgeries that the impact of having a crime left ‘under investigation’ has health impacts.

“I know from community meetings I’ve attended that people feel that it’s often the same person committing spates of crimes when they should be locked up.

“We should remember that the number of officers in Sussex is still significantly down on where it was in September 2010.

“The Police Federation says that the public are being let down by cuts to police forces.

“The quickest way to resolve outstanding cases would be to recruit and fund policing to the levels it used to be.”

Mr Moore said he did not realise the situation was as bad as revealed by The Argus.

He said: “I speak with some authority as ex head of CID, and serving at every detective rank right up to Detective Chief Superintendent.

“Leaving cases can put them in jeopardy. You lose witnesses along the way, particularly if they are vulnerable domestic violence or abuse victims.

“You risk losing the confidence of the public in the police. It throws the whole thing into disrepute.”

Police chiefs say they remain committed to victims despite large numbers of suspects being released under investigation.

Sussex Police said suspects who posed risks to victims of crime still face bail conditions.

The force said there are also orders such as Domestic Violence Protection Orders and now Stalking Protection Orders.

In response to Mr Moore’s concerns about training and supervision of investigators, the force said training is given to its staff.

“Each of the dedicated investigators attends an initial course and we are identifying further areas where we can invest in the continuing professional development of them all,” the force said.

Meanwhile, police chiefs say some investigations can be complicated, such as historic sexual abuse enquiries, or involve gathering evidence from online.

The force said: “The increased availability of digital evidence has created additional challenges we are taking steps to meet. We will continue to seek new resources and work closely with criminal justice partners to make justice as swift as possible while remaining fair.”

Chiefs hope extra funding will allow them to recruit more detectives and investigators.