Amjid Jabbar, Partner at Stokoe Partnership Solicitors, has written an article for Solicitors Journal following the collapse of Operation Tuleta.

This article has been published in Solicitors Journal, 10th November 2015.

The collapse of the trial of 15 people arrested as part of Operation Tuleta threw up several questions, relating to both the actions of the police in pursuing the case and the legal measures utilised to prolong that pursuit.

Clearly, a legal process which lasts four years, costs £3.5m, and results in 15 of 18 suspects being released without charge has unravelled spectacularly, but certain details of that unravelling merit closer examination, and have a resonance beyond the particulars of this individual case. Operation Tuleta arose as a result of the phone-hacking scandal of 2011, although the operation itself was devoted to investigating allegations of hacking into computers rather than mobile phones.

Doomed case

The 15 people recently cleared were investigated on the grounds of hacking offences alleged to have taken place between 2005 and 2007. After an investigation which generated 1,500 exhibits and 560 statements, it transpired that the alleged offences were in fact ‘time barred’, and therefore couldn’t be prosecuted any later than six months after they were alleged to have taken place.

Statements issued by the Metropolitan Police following the collapse of the case make it perfectly clear that the four years after the arrests were devoted to attempting to find alternative charges which could be pressed, or further offences which would offer a successful route to prosecution and conviction.

At each stage, lawyers acting for the Crown Prosecution Service dismissed the efforts of the Met on the grounds that any further charges would merely be seen (with a degree of accuracy) as being attempts to work around the timebarred nature of the alleged original offences.

The fact that a case which was clearly doomed from the outset was pursued with such zeal, not to mention expense, over such a protracted timeframe does call into question the motivations driving the actions of the police. As many people noted at the time of the actual arrests – via the kind of high-profile and well-publicised dawn raids more commonly associated with hardened and dangerous criminals – the approach of the police seems to have been driven by a regard for public perception over the actual strength of the case itself.

Police bail

The legal aspect of the case which is most disturbing, however, is the repeated use of police bail. In all but a few cases, the police are allowed 24 hours to question a suspect, after which time they have to either press charges or release the individual. On many occasions, the police opt to release the suspect on bail while they make further enquiries.

The fact that there is no statutory limit to the time suspects can spend on police bail means they can be bailed multiple times, remaining in limbo – under suspicion but not actually charged – for months or even years at a time. Often, having bail extended involves little more than a quick trip to the police station, and sometimes even this bureaucratic nicety is dropped.

While on bail, suspects have to face both the psychological impact of not knowing if, or when, they are likely to be charged, and the practical ramifications, which often include being unable to earn a living or being suspended from work for as long as the shadow of suspicion looms over them.

The high-profile examples of police bail being used to work around the spirit of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) have often involved celebrities under investigation for alleged historical sex crimes, but it shouldn’t be imagined that this is a tactic only employed when dealing with the famous. A freedom of information request from the BBC showed that, in 2013, more than 3,000 UK citizens had been the subject of ‘endless bail’ and that, in many cases, the bail came with severe conditions attached.

Used in this manner, police bail often acts as a form of control as much as an aid to an investigation, coming complete with conditions which stop the individuals in question entering certain areas or meeting with other individuals.

Thus, people who have yet to be prosecuted, found guilty, or even charged find themselves in the position of having their freedom of movement, speech, and assembly curtailed in a manner more severe than that represented by the majority of criminal behaviour orders or injunctions. The fact that police bail exists in a statutory grey area, beyond the rules which normally protect the rights of suspects, means it is far too open to abuse.

This case, and others like it, demonstrates all too clearly the maxim that justice delayed is justice denied.

You can also read Amjid’s article below.

Download the PDF file .