VULNERABLE crime victims may be left at risk because police are overstretched dealing with other incidents, a report says.

A Government inspection said Sussex Police were “missing opportunities” to safeguard victims and secure evidence.

The report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMICFRS) found the force “doesn’t always respond to vulnerable victims quickly enough to keep them safe”.

It included figures which showed 43 per cent of calls on the police 101 line were abandoned, while appointments or callouts to reach vulnerable victims were missed as officers responded to urgent calls.

The report found “there are often significant delays before any officer sees the victim, despite an initial assessment that they may be vulnerable”.

In one example, a suicidal woman reported financial and physical abuse by her partner, but was only seen after nine days.

But Chief Constable Giles York said the report only covered the year 2018 to 2019 and improvements are being made.

The report also found Sussex was “good” at investigating crime, tackling antisocial behaviour, tackling serious and organised crime, and treating the public fairly.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham said the force “requires improvement” for protecting vulnerable people and for its efficiency in meeting current demands and using its resources.

Ms Billingham’s report states: “Some investigations involving vulnerable people are taking a long time, without any reassessment of risk to the victim. This means that the force is missing opportunities to safeguard victims and secure evidence.”

The report was published earlier this month, and Ms Billingham said: “I am satisfied with most aspects of the performance of Sussex Police.

“But the force needs to make improvements in how it deals with vulnerable people. It also needs to improve its efficiency if it is to provide a consistently cost effective service to the public.

“I am disappointed that the force has not responded to our previous concerns and recommendations as to how it safeguards vulnerable people.

It does not consistently assess the risks or respond to them in a timely manner, which means that people at risk may not always be adequately protected.

“The force is struggling to meet demand for its services. It should gain a better understanding of how it uses and prioritises resources to meet current demand.”

Chief Constable Giles York said: “The report recognises the overall quality of the service we provide but, being published almost a year after the inspection, does not reflect the huge strides that have been made since.

“We have reduced 101 call waiting times by more than 70 per cent, to an average of under five minutes, and cut the number of callers who hang up before getting through by more than 60 per cent. This is all making a difference now.

“In the coming weeks and months we will be further enhancing our service to victims of domestic abuse and the specialist support available for victims of sexual violence, among a range of growth plans.”