More than 15,000 crimes did not go before the courts in Greater Manchester last year because police let off offenders with a caution. A total of 32 sex attacks, 33 robberies and 3,071 assaults were punished with a caution, reprimand or final warning instead of an appearance in the dock. And eight young rapists have been handed final warnings instead of being charged for their crimes over the last five years.
Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, can reveal a huge increase in cautions, reprimands and final warnings - up 48 per cent from 2002. Some victims have criticised police for massively over-using the `cheap and easy' caution on serious villains who they say should be punished in court. But senior police said the rise in the use of cautions was part of a government drive to `keep lower-level criminals and young offenders out of the criminal justice system and provide them with the support to break the cycle of crime'. And they said the views and welfare of victims, who are fearful of taking a case to court, are considered. Pc Norman Brennan, from the Victims of Crime Trust, said: "Cautions are all well and good where it is appropriate to use them and they have the desired effect. The sad reality is that cautions and fixed penalty fines are often dished out now as a cheaper, less effective alternative deterrent for many who should be before the courts. I despair of the level of law and disorder in this country. If somebody who admits rape is getting a caution, there have to be exceptional circumstances as to why they aren't charged."
Home Office guideline state cautions should `in general' never be used for the most serious crimes. Children under 18 are now handed `reprimands' or more serious `final warnings', both of which - like the caution - require they admit their guilt. Youngsters who are given `final warnings' are also referred to a youth offending team. Police can issue a reprimand or final warning if it is `not in the public interest to prosecute' but only if the youngster has no previous convictions. Cautions are logged on an individual's criminal record and can be considered by a court or the police in any future offence. In 2006, 15,326 cautions, reprimands or final warnings were handed out in Greater Manchester - up from 10,326 in 2002. No-one was cautioned for murder or manslaughter but eight youngsters have accepted final warnings for rape since 2002.
Of the 9,207 cautions given to adults in 2006, we can reveal 2,106 were for assault, 18 for sex assault and five for robbery. Some 3,802 reprimands were handed to youngsters under 18 during the same year, two for sex assault, 11 for robbery and 560 for assault. There were 2,317 final warnings given to youngsters in the year, 12 for sex assault, 17 for robbery and 405 for assault.
Supt Dave Wilkinson, from the criminal justice division, said: "A caution, reprimand or final warning is given for minor, first time offences, where there is an admission of guilt and can act as a deterrent to getting involved in further crime. Nationally, there has been a drive to keep lower-level criminals and young offenders out of the criminal justice system. This was given as guidance from the Home Office in 2003. A number of important factors are taken into account when considering whether to issue a caution, reprimand or final warning for an offence, including the views of the victim, their age, welfare and mental wellbeing and any aggravating or mitigating factors of the offence. In some circumstances, the offender's situation, for example if there are mental health issues and the likelihood of re-offending, is taken into account. We would not issue a caution, reprimand or final warning where we felt there was an ongoing risk to the public."
Police insisted it was `not in the public interest' to charge the youths cautioned for rape. Det Supt Mick Lay, from the public protection section, said: "Cautions, reprimands or final warnings are very rarely given for serious sexual offences. Between 2002 and 2006, the final warnings issued for rape account for only 0.2 per cent of all recorded rape in Greater Manchester during that period. All reports of sexual offences are taken extremely seriously and Greater Manchester Police will always try to prosecute offenders. However, there are very occasionally incidents where an offender will not be taken to court. This decision is taken only after a full review of the case is made and it is clear it would not be in the public interest to pursue a prosecution. Offenders who receive a caution, reprimand or final warning for a sexual offence will be placed on the sex offenders' register, in line with the Sexual Offences Act 2003."
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