Police record thousands of ‘online-flagged’ crimes

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Around 170 internet-fuelled crimes are registered by police every day on average, official figures show.

Forces in England and Wales logged at least some online element in more than 60,000 offences in the year to September.

Fraud and computer misuse are not included in the “experimental” statistics, as those are recorded centrally.

But the findings provide an indication of the mounting focus on cyber space across other crime categories.

Police and prosecutors have flagged up an “explosion” in the volume of digital material in investigations after failures to disclose crucial evidence rocked confidence in the criminal justice system.

In April 2015, it became mandatory for police to return quarterly information on the number of crimes flagged as being either fully or partially committed online.

The latest findings, published alongside headline crime statistics last week, show 62,694 offences were flagged as online crimes in the 12 months from October 2016.

Harassment and stalking made up the largest chunk of online-flagged crimes, with 38,084 – meaning 15% of all recorded offences in the categories involved the internet.

The online flag was also applied to 9,102 obscene publications offences, 6,733 child sexual offences and 2,078 blackmail offences – accounting for 44%, 13% and 28% of the total numbers of recorded crimes in those brackets respectively.

Other categories with the marker included public order offences (1,882), criminal damage and arson (190) and “other violence against the person” crimes (1,721).

Online-flagged offences still only account for a fraction of the total number of crimes registered by forces.

But statisticians note there is “anecdotal evidence” the online flag is currently underused and expect the proportion to increase going forward.

The capacity of authorities to cope with the rising volume of digital material has come under the spotlight after defendants facing rape allegations had the charges against them dropped when critical evidence emerged at the 11th hour.

An action plan published by the Crown Prosecution Service and police chiefs last week said: “There has been an explosion in the volume of digital material created in criminal investigations, with greater strain being placed on the capacity for CPS lawyers and individual officers to consider disclosure.”

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