The Devon and Cornwall Police service has been assessed as ‘inadequate’ at investigating crime in a critical report that says not enough offenders are being brought to justice, writes Alison Stephenson.

HM Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) says the standards of the force’s investigations “have deteriorated” because of understaffed and inexperienced teams investigating serious offences, while leadership still needs to improve.

In a review of 66 cases, only 47 had an investigation plan and in some cases had “significant failings and victims had been let down”.

Inspectors also noted “serious concerns” about the force’s management of investigations.

Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez noted that data since the inspection showed improved performance in other areas, including how the force manages offenders.

But she said she “shared HMICFRS’s concerns relating to crime investigation standards” and would be “challenging the force’s leadership to improve significantly in this area”.

“For several months, my recently formed accountability and standards team have been examining how files are prepared for court and how data is collected and used by the force,” she said. “Their findings chime with those of His Majesty’s Inspector. The public must be confident that when they report crime the evidence and information they supply is correctly recorded and used so perpetrators are brought to book and victims receive the justice they deserve.”

The force has said the report is based on historical data which “does not accurately reflect improvements the force has made”.

They claimed positive feedback is evident in the force’s management of offenders and registered sex offenders, although this is still rated as “requires improvement”.

HM chief inspector of constabulary Andy Cooke said: “Since our previous inspection, the force has made significant efforts to improve in the areas we highlighted as causes of concern or areas of improvement, which is recognised.

“However, despite those improvements, more is required to place the force in a position where it is consistently providing a good standard of service to its local communities.”

Acting chief constable Jim Colwell said: “I am pleased that the Inspectorate has acknowledged the good work that goes on in our neighbourhood teams every day, which is a reflection on the hard work of our officers, staff and volunteers. We are committed to delivering community policing with competence, compassion and common sense, which is why we remain the second safest force area in the country, and this has been clearly recognised by the Inspectorate.”

Instability at the top the force may also have been a factor in the outcomes of the report, with chief constable Will Kerr remaining suspended after more than a year.

Mr Cooke noted that operating with a temporary senior leadership team “hasn’t been easy”, and that the force is “one of the largest policing regions in England and Wales.

“The infrastructure of both Devon and Cornwall presents challenges in how the force can use resources to improve services in the areas we have identified,” he said.