THOUSANDS of suspects are being released by Dorset Police without any restrictions and potentially putting victims and the public in danger, research suggests.

The number of people being released under investigation (RUI) after being questioned by police has "dramatically increased", leaving victims, witnesses and suspects "in limbo" and waiting months or even years for justice, the Law Society of England and Wales claims.

In 2016/17 a total of 3,222 people were bailed by Dorset Police, meaning they would have to comply with conditions such as living at a certain address, not contacting particular people, or regularly visiting a police station.

A year later just 87 people were released on bail with a huge 3,980 released under investigation.

The RUI process is being used across England and Wales for a "full range of crimes" including serious offences such as murder without a proper process for assessing risk to the public, research carried out by the body which represents lawyers across the country suggests.

Cases are at risk of "dragging on for unlimited lengths of time" and it is replacing bail "almost entirely", according to the society.

Under the process introduced as part of bail reforms, suspects leave custody after an arrest with no restrictions in place while they remain under investigation.

The society's president Simon Davis said cuts had led under-pressure police forces to use the procedure to "buy investigative time", adding: "Suspects are left with uncertainty. Victims of crime often live in fear of being confronted by the accused.

"In the interests of both justice and public safety, release under investigation must be used appropriately."

The law was changed by the Government in 2017 in a bid to limit the time someone spends on bail to 28 days, offering police instead the chance to release someone under investigation for an unlimited period of time and without having to place any restrictions on them.

The society has called on the Home Office to introduce strict time limits on RUI, to create a central register of numbers of RUIs by police area, crime and date, to increase legal aid rates for lawyers and to keep suspects informed.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We fully support the police in their use of pre-charge bail in cases where it is necessary and proportionate, including where bail conditions are needed to protect victims and witnesses.

"The National Police Chiefs' Council guidance, issued to police forces earlier this year, states that in cases involving high-harm crimes, such as domestic abuse and sexual violence, pre-charge bail should be seriously considered and senior detectives consulted if a suspect is released only under investigation.

"Cases where individuals are released under investigation must also be regularly reviewed and effectively managed, with both suspects and victims kept updated."

A spokesman for Dorset Police said: "On Monday April 3 2017 the Police and Crime Act 2017 came into force, changing the approach to pre-charge bail.

"Following the introduction of the new legislation where bail was not deemed necessary or proportionate, with no bail condition required, the presumption is people will be released under investigation rather than on bail."