A motorist whose car was smashed in a late-night attack had his case dropped by police after just three hours.

It is one of 52,539 criminal investigations closed in the last three years in Norfolk and Waveney after officers were unable to find the suspects. Almost a quarter of all reports made to police end with the case being closed because no suspect could be identified.

Norfolk Police said cases can be closed within hours if no evidence can be found, but they can be reopened if more evidence comes to light.

Police figures show that between January 2017 and December 2019 around 24pc of closed investigations were criminal damage and arson, totalling 12,610 cases.

One such incident occurred in the early hours of December 13 last year, when Scott Buck, 31, and his partner heard a loud bang outside their home in Dereham.

They looked outside to find someone smashing the windows of Mr Buck's Vauxhall Astra VXR before running off.

Officers visited his home and took a statement at around 1am, Mr Buck said.

But three hours later, Mr Buck said he received an email from Norfolk Police stating they were closing the investigation.

'I felt there was enough evidence for them to keep investigating,' Mr Buck said. 'It should've been at least 12 hours.'

In 2017, 26pc of all reports made to Norfolk Police were closed without any suspects, reaching 18,954 cases.

But this number declined in 2018 to 24pc with 18,230 cases and dropped even further last year to 20pc with 15,355 cases.

A growing number of violence and sexual offence cases are also being closed, increasing from 1,612 in 2017 to 1,777 last year.

A spokesman from Norfolk Police said in many cases it can be difficult to identify a suspect if criminals avoid CCTV, leave no forensic evidence or there are no witnesses. They said: 'Crimes which the investigating officer has deemed to have no evidential opportunities - or where all reasonable lines of enquiry have been exhausted - will be closed following a review from a supervisory officer.

'Crimes can be closed in a relatively short period of time if no evidential opportunities are apparent, however it is important to recognise that all crimes can be re-activated if further investigative opportunities become available.

'Victims will be updated as to the status of the crime and also at any closure point, providing officers the opportunity to identify vulnerable or repeat victims and refer to support agencies as appropriate.'

Around 19pc of cases that closed in the last three years were categorised as 'other' theft, which includes theft by employee and running off without payment, while 15pc were burglaries.

In one case in Terrington St Clement, in west Norfolk, police were unable to trace the thieves who stole two metal crosses from the gravestones of Alan Hodgson's family in 2018.

Mr Hodgson, 73, whose family runs the wrought iron company AJ Hodgsons and Sons in Station Road, said the metal crosses were unique and of sentimental value, as they were made by his late brother Tony 30 years ago.

But despite the investigation closing, Mr Hodgson said the most important thing for him was that the crosses were remade by the family and placed on the gravestones of his parents in Churchgate Way.

'The police are very busy people, it would've been difficult to find the suspects unless someone came forward with information,' Mr Hodgson said.

'You have to be realistic about these things, unfortunately that's life.'

In 2019, the largest number of closed cases were in Norwich, accounting for 27pc of the total, followed by Great Yarmouth and west Norfolk with 13pc each.

Elsewhere last year, 11pc of dropped cases in the county were in Breckland, with another 8pc in south Norfolk, 7pc in Broadland and 6pc in north Norfolk.

Tracey Woolf, engagement lead at Norfolk and Suffolk Victim Care, said: 'Crimes referred to as low-level, such as burglary or theft, must be taken seriously as they rob victims of more than just material possessions.

'Almost every crime has the power to undermine feelings of safety and can make victims feel increased anxiety and mistrust.

'For this reason, without exception, it is vital that victims are treated with dignity and updated on the progress of investigations.'