ONLY a quarter of defendants who are remanded in custody by magistrates in north Essex go on to receive prison sentences.

Of the 397 people remanded by magistrates in Colchester and Chelmsford last year, 297 were either acquitted or avoided prison if found guilty.

The Howard League for Penal Reform, which conducted nationwide research, believes remand is widely overused and misused by magistrates.

Across the country, the group estimates £230million of taxpayers’ money was wasted in 2013 remanding prisoners needlessly.

In north Essex, it cost approximately £2.7million last year to accommodate prisoners who would go on to avoid custodial sentences.

Nationally, 71 per cent of those remanded in custody did not receive a prison sentence.

But Richard Monkhouse, chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, said: “Frankly, the figures from the Howard League do not give the context in which bail decisions are made.

“The decision to remand a person in custody is one of the toughest our members have to take, in doing so they are assessing risk and fulfilling their duty to apply the law.”