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Covering your tracks

What happens when I report a crime?

If you decide to report a crime to police, they will need to talk to you to find out the details of what happened and who was involved, before they can start an investigation.

Young girl doing school work

It can be quite upsetting and difficult to talk about what has happened to you, but the police are there to help you, to hear what you have to say, and to try and find and arrest the person who committed the crime.

Below are some of the stages that happen once you have reported a crime. Remember you haven’t done anything wrong, and organisations such as You & Co are there to help.

Reporting a crime

When you first report a crime, a police officer will ask you for the basic details – what happened, when and where, and if you know the person who did it – which is known as a statement. If you can, ask an adult who you trust to go with you to report the crime; they should be able to stay with you while you make this initial statement to police.

Try and think carefully about what happened, so that you can give as much accurate information as possible to the police. If they ask you a question and you don’t know the answer, it’s fine to say that. But it’s important not to guess, or to make things up; it’s much better to just tell the police in your own words what happened to you and anything you know about who did it.

Initial investigation

That may be enough for an initial investigation to be launched; in which case, the officer will start to look for and contact any other witnesses, look for other evidence such as CCTV, and – if the offender is known – find and talk to the offender. Depending on the type of crime, how serious the offence is and whether there’s a likelihood of the person committing another offence – or of you being at risk of harm – the offender may be arrested and questioned quite quickly. In some cases it can take quite a long while to identify the offender, or to find them.

Once the crime has been reported, and an initial investigation has been launched, you should be given a crime reference number. You can use this number to find out what’s happening at different stages of the investigation.

Why have the police decided not to investigate?

Sometimes, when you report a crime, the police don’t follow up with an investigation. This may be for a number of reasons. For example, there might not be enough evidence to solve the crime, or to identify who committed it; the person who they believe has committed the offence may have passed away; or what happened, even though it had a real impact on you, might not have been a crime.

But it doesn’t mean that the police haven’t believed you. Whatever the reason for not continuing with the investigation, the police should let you know as soon as they make the decision not to continue. It doesn’t mean that the crime is not important, or that the investigation is permanently closed. The police will often keep the details on record, and may refer to the report when investigating other related crimes or trying to identify stolen property.

Giving your statement or first account

While the first conversation you have with the police and the first statement you make may be quite brief, you are likely to be asked to go along to the police station to make another, more detailed statement. This is known as an Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interview, and is often recorded on video. This is a way of making sure young victims and witnesses are able to give as much accurate information as possible to the police and the courts, without being put under pressure. If the case eventually comes to court, this video will be shown in court so that the magistrates, jury, lawyers and defendant can hear your evidence.

You can ask an adult you trust to go with you and stay with you when you go to talk to the police. The police will let you know who can be supporting you when you give your ABE interview, this may be a social worker or a family member. You may also be appointed an intermediary or interpreter who will help you communicate in your ABE interview.

The police may ask you some quite personal questions about what happened, but they need to get as many facts as possible for when the case goes to court. Remember, no one is blaming you for what has happened, or thinks that it’s your fault. If they ask you a question and you don’t know the answer; it’s fine to say you don’t remember. But it’s important not to guess, or to make things up; it’s much better to just tell the police in your own words what happened to you and anything you know about who did it.

If during the interview you feel tired, upset or confused, or feel like you need a break, it's okay to ask to stop for a while.

How will I know what is happening in the case?

If the police launch an investigation, they should keep you informed of what is happening. Sometimes, particularly if the person who committed the offence is identified and arrested soon after you report the crime, things can happen very quickly. In other cases it may be a long time before the person is identified, traced or questioned.

The police should keep in contact with you and give you the latest information about your case. If you don’t feel you are being kept up to date, talk to your young victim supporter or the Witness Care Unit.

What will happen to the offender?

When the police find the person who committed the crime against you, they will tell them that an allegation has been made and by who, and ask them for their version of what took place. They may admit that they have committed a crime to the police or they may deny that they have done anything wrong.

There are a number of things that could happen:

  • If there is evidence that the person committed a crime, the police may decide to caution the person. If they are a young offender (aged 17 or under), they may get a caution or conditional caution. 
  • With young offenders the police may also suggest using a restorative justice approach. You don’t have to agree to restorative justice, but some victims find it helps them to recover from crime and move on.  Restorative justice may involve asking you to attend a meeting between you (or someone on your behalf) and the offender, with other people there. The offender will probably be asked to apologise to you, put right any damage they have caused, or do something else to help make up for what they have done. You can talk to your young victim supporter to find out more about restorative justice. 
  • The police may submit the evidence they have to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) who decides whether there is enough evidence and that it is in the public interest to prosecute the person accused. This means the case will go to court. The police do not decide the outcome of a case; instead they are responsible for collecting evidence and passing it on to the CPS. The CPS has to consider the impact on the victims involved, and decide whether or not it is in the public interest to prosecute. They should also take into account the views of you or your family. You can find out more information about this on the CPS website.
  • If the CPS decides to go ahead with a prosecution, you do not have to attend the trial if the defendant pleads ‘guilty’. If the defendant pleads ‘not guilty’ or denies an important part of the offence, you may be asked to give evidence if you were a witness to the crime (some victims are not witnesses if, for example, they were burgled and away from home at the time). You can find more information about being a witness in a trial and giving evidence in the Going to court section of this website.

What you can do

Information about the court process