Rapists, robbers and paedophiles spared court in Lincolnshire
Thousands of offenders are being spared court – and potential jail sentences – for crimes including child rape, sexual assault and robbery.
Criminals are accepting warnings, cautions and reprimands after police decide it is not in the public interest to prosecute them.
Figures released to the Echo show 3,330 crimes were dealt with out of court in a year.
Twenty-seven cautions, ten final warnings and five reprimands were given for sex offences, including ten paedophiles who groomed and assaulted their victims.
The rapes of a boy and a girl, both aged under 13, resulted in final warnings. Police say this was probably because the offenders were also children.
Meanwhile, one reprimand was given for street robbery, 263 cautions were dished out for shoplifting and one reprimand given out for false imprisonment. In addition, 54 cautions were distributed for heroin and cocaine possession, one for child abduction and seven for making threats to kill. There were also 367 cautions, 44 warnings and 93 reprimands for assault occasioning actually bodily harm.
Chief Inspector Philip Baker, from Lincolnshire Police's criminal justice department, said the statistics must be viewed in context and that each case was reviewed on its own merits.
"Cautions are not a let-off or a slap on the wrist," he said. "The offender admits the offence and it sits on their police record. If it's a sexual offence, a caution would show up on a CRB check if they applied for a job involving children."
The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show nearly 500 cannabis warnings were issued for offences including possession of small quantities.
When people are cautioned,
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their photo, fingerprints, DNA and other evidence are kept on file, and some cautions are conditional to protect victims and prevent reoffending.
Final warnings also come with a raft of conditions which aim to rehabilitate criminals. The system is overseen by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Inspector Baker said disposing of offences out of court requires consultation with victims.
"We look at each case individually and consider aggravating or mitigating factors," he said. "In a case where an 11-year-old has come in for smashing a window and they're completely remorseful, a reprimand is probably the best course of action. Do you really want to criminalise someone like that?
"There is one caution for causing death by dangerous driving. On first glance you would question why.
"We cannot go into specifics, but if an elderly gentleman was driving a car dangerously due to his age, and he ends up killing his wife who is sat in the passenger seat, would the public want to see that individual go to prison or sentenced in court?"
Nick Hall, Victim Support divisional manager for Lincolnshire, said: "The important thing from the victims' perspective is that they are kept informed."
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TayPayers' Alliance, said: "In some cases there's no sense in pushing ahead to prosecution.
"But when you're talking about crimes like burglary when it's hard to catch someone, when you do catch them, it's important to follow it up with a full prosecution."
Criminal lawyer Mark McNeil, a partner with Sills and Betteridge said there had been an increase in cautions.
"But there are cases where two people are arrested for the same offence, one is charged and the other is not and neither has previous convictions," he said. "I just think there needs to be a more consistent approach."