Criminals confess to nearly 400 offences thanks to specialist police unit
- Credit: Suffolk Constabulary/Archant
A police unit dedicated to settling otherwise unsolved cases and allowing criminals to wipe the slate clean has cleared up almost 400 offences since its expansion earlier this year.
Suffolk Constabulary's Operation Converter team aims to give victims peace of mind by encouraging criminals to admit other offences to be taken into consideration (TIC) at sentencing and avoid being charged in the future.
Retired detective Duncan Etchells reached the end of a 23-year career last August, but returned to the unit as a civilian administrator in December, following investment raised by the police and crime commissioner (PCC) through an increase to the council tax precept.
The unit used to comprise Mr Etchells and fellow detective constable Barry Simpson, but now boasts an additional detective constable, Merv Cook, as well as two PCs, Dan Wheddon and Tim Barrell.
Mr Etchells, whose new administrative role has freed up his colleagues to carry out more prison and home visits, drive offenders to locations and achieve proper admissions, said: "What we do is very much victim led.
"We have to be satisfied that the victim's happy.
"We use TICs in the event of having insufficient evidence to prosecute a specific offence on its own against an offender.
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"They know as well as we do that, in a couple of months' time, a forensic hit could come back and result in a new charge."
Since becoming fully operational at the end of January, the new-look team has secured 369 TICs from 260 prison and home visits to 46 individuals, receiving custodial sentences worth a total of 42 years and two months.
Offences included 34 domestic burglaries, 84 non-domestic burglaries and 73 vehicle crimes.
The last eight months also included 23 'restorative justice' referrals – a process of bringing victims and offenders together to address and repair any harm.
Mr Etchells added: "As well as wiping the slate clean, a lot of them want to do the right thing.
"We also try to assist them down the rehabilitation route. If we can help stop reoffending, it creates more capacity for our other colleagues.
"We tend to meet offenders at their lowest ebb, and we try to encourage them to empathise with their victims.
"We’re working to achieve the objectives set out in the PCC’s Police and Crime Plan, especially with regards to improving public satisfaction and increasing public confidence in Suffolk police by putting victims of crime uppermost in what we do."
Det Con Simpson stressed that the unit's job was not to hit targets or get numbers up, and that each offender, ethically, must provide ample evidence that they were responsible for each offence.
"We offer them the opportunity to clear the slate by working with us and co-operating," he added.
"If they say no, they're left in no doubt that they could have their bag packed and get to the prison gates to see a police van waiting.
"I'm amazed by the amount of people we see on remand who are clean of drugs, level-headed and remorseful in the cold light of day.
"That's when they want to make amends. They don't feel that way when they're in the grip of alcohol or drugs."
Among those to co-operate with the team in recent months was 34-year-old Sean Abrey, of Northgate Street, Bury St Edmunds, who was sentenced to 18 weeks' imprisonment for stealing items from a car, interfering with another vehicle and agreeing for 18 other offences to be taken into account.
Alan Rogers, 46, formerly of Market Place, Hadleigh, was jailed for eight months after admitting walking away from a string of venues without paying for almost £2,500 worth of meals and hospitality.
Wesley Spring, 19, of High Street, Newmarket, was sentenced to 40 months in a young offender institution for a string of crimes mainly committed in Lowestoft.
Joel Deeny, 33, of Fuchsia Lane, Ipswich, who made a series of disgusting phone calls to Ipswich Hospital and a number of schools and nurseries, asked for 29 similar offences to be considered before being sentenced to 20 months' custody.
Serial burglar Sorin-Marian Constantin, of Ashcroft Road, Ipswich, was recently sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail, to run concurrently with a six-year term he received in January, after coming clean to another string of offences.
Shane Phillips, 25, of New Street, Stradbroke, and Tim Moyle, 26, of Anchor Street, Lowestoft, asked for 96 offences to be taken into account when sentenced for a crime spree across Suffolk, Norfolk and other parts of the country.
Suffolk PCC Tim Passmore said he was confident that the recent expansion of the team would build on its "amazing" results.
He added: "The overall aim of Operation Converter is victim satisfaction, and what better way to achieve this than to be able to tell a victim that the offender has been apprehended.
"Helping more victims have closure on the crimes they have experienced is very important for their general wellbeing and improves confidence in the criminal justice system, which is good news all round.
“I fully supported the investment in this team, the work they do is making a real difference to public confidence, offender rehabilitation, property recovery and crime reduction."