Belfast Telegraph

Police let 7,000 off with a warning: Scores of abusers, drug dealers, thugs and burglars dealt with by official caution

The same punishment is handed out to drunks and jaywalkers

By Deborah McAleese

Perpetrators of almost 7,000 criminal offences including violent assaults, child cruelty and burglaries escaped prosecution last year by accepting a police caution.

Serious crimes such as rioting, supplying class A drugs and child sex abuse were all dealt with by way of a police caution.

The same method of disposal was used for less serious crimes such as jaywalking, failing to display a vehicle test certificate and being a "simple drunk".

Chief Inspector Mike Kirby said that a caution "is a formal reprimand by police, and although not a conviction, it remains 'unspent' on an adult's criminal record for a period of five years".

Mr Kirby added that the individual receiving the caution "must have made a clear and reliable admission of the offence and there must be a realistic prospect of conviction if the offender were to be prosecuted in line with the PPS (Public Prosecution Service) full evidential test".

Cautions can be recommended for crimes that are comparatively less serious and involve offenders who have little or no previous offending history.

However, Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said that in a large number of cases victims will have been left feeling like justice had not been done.

He also raised concern that "some very serious crimes appear to have resulted in the same slap on the wrist as more minor misdemeanour".

"How can victims of crime feel that justice has been done when they see the perpetrators of those crimes getting off with a police caution?" the DUP MLA asked.

"I would also be concerned that in sensitive cases, such as sex abuse cases, the victim may be reluctant to come forward if they do not believe their complaint will be dealt with seriously enough."

Mr Craig added: "This is something that has been raised at the board as a matter of concern. The use of a police caution is a discretionary measure.

"The difficulty we are seeing is that there is no consistency across the board with officers. I think this indicates that a level of training needs to be done."

He said that he believes it was "OK to use a caution in some instances, but it is definitely not right to dispose of serious crimes like burglaries, sex attacks and child cruelty by way of caution".

Almost 30 cases of cruelty to children, 977 common assaults, 19 burglaries and seven arson attacks were among the thousands of crimes dealt with by way of police caution from September 2013 to October this year, according to PSNI statistics obtained by the Belfast Telegraph.

A case of gross indecency with a child and another case of indecent assault on a child also resulted in caution rather than prosecution.

The greatest number of cautions, 1,305, were handed out for the possession of class B drugs. Possession of class A drugs resulted in 100 cautions.

Since 2010, when 10,538 cautions were handed out, there has been a yearly decrease in the number of cases disposed of in this way, due to the introduction of additional discretionary methods of dealing with a case.

"The range of crime disposal methods available to PSNI has increased over recent years with the introduction of fixed penalty notices for certain disorder offences and with the introduction of discretionary disposals," said Chief Inspector Kirby.

Last year two instances of attempted child abduction resulted in caution. In 2012 three cases of paying for the sexual services of a child, one of meeting a child following sexual grooming and one of making indecent images of children were also dealt with by caution.

Other crimes dealt with by way of caution over the past five years include: possession of an offensive weapon in a public place, brothel keeping, indecent exposure, blackmail and kerb-crawling.

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