By JR on Sunday, August 28, 2011
VICTORIA Police is concerned that suspected violent criminals are being freed by the courts - despite facing serious charges - and then allegedly committing murder, rape and armed robbery.
An investigation by the Sunday Herald Sun has revealed 6096 suspects were granted bail last year and then went into hiding, missing the date of their court hearing. And, before arrest warrants for failing to appear in court were executed, 884 of them went on to commit an alleged 4117 new offences.
But Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said there were "clear expectations" on officers to remand anyone in custody who posed a risk to society or was a risk of absconding and he was "confident" this was done in all police cases. "Ultimately, it's the court's decision and sometimes the courts don't go our way," Mr Cornelius said.
"There are times when we are concerned because of the risk to the public. There are plenty of cases where it might be said they've (the courts) got it wrong."
But Chief Magistrate Ian Gray hit back, suggesting police may have let some of the bail-jumpers go. "Offending while on bail is a serious issue and the decision to grant bail is made carefully," Mr Gray said. "It's not clear from these figures how many of these are police bails or court bails - but where it's shown in court that an offender poses an unacceptable risk of reoffending bail will be denied.
"Courts are obliged to apply the law. There is a presumption in favour of granting bail unless an accused needs to show cause or show exceptional circumstances."
Mr Cornelius cited the release of captured drug kingpin Tony Mokbel, who subsequently fled to Greece while on bail and was on the run for more than a year before being rearrested and extradited back to Melbourne. "I hope that Mokbel would be one case that would provide a source of reflection for our judicial colleagues," he said.
The statistics were obtained under Freedom of Information requests over several months. Police would not reveal the identities of the alleged murderer and other criminals who reoffended while at large.
Mr Cornelius revealed a newly published six-month performance report flagged outstanding warrants as an issue and that police statewide would now be conducting regular operations. "If a suspect has made a decision to skip bail and not turn up to court it's likely they have also made arrangements to go to ground and not be found," Mr Cornelius said, explaining why suspects were not located straight away.
"The volume of warrants is going up because courts are dishing out more each day, while we are still trying to find the ones we already have. It's on our radar. Our focus is on outstanding warrants and we need to pay a great deal of attention to it."
All officers are notified of a warrant if they happen to stop a person for any reason and run a check on their name.
The police's job becomes harder if the suspect moves to another suburb, interstate or even overseas. "The impetus and motivation is very much there to catch everyone who is wanted on a warrant," Mr Cornelius said. "For every crime there is a victim and if we don't have the accused there is a victim out there not getting justice. "The 4117 figure is a number that serves a reminder to Victoria Police to pay attention to this matter."
The Justice Department refused to comment on the issue this week after being asked on Wednesday.