More Than Half Of Violent Criminals Now Given Just A Caution

More than half of violent thugs caught by police now escape with a ticking-off, it has emerged. Instead of being hailed before the courts or jailed, more than 50,000 violent attackers were simply handed a caution last year – an increase of more than a third on 2004. They included more than 1,300 louts guilty of life threatening wounding and even threatening to kill their victim. The Conservatives said the revelations were “an insult to the victims of crime”.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “It is bad enough that so many people suffer from soaring violent crime. It is outrageous that so many people get away with it. This is a direct consequence of Labour’s failure to address the chronic lack of capacity in our prisons, meaning people who should be in jail are not. People want to see offenders properly prosecuted and convicted.”

The unrelenting rise in the use of the caution – an effective slap on the wrist which carries no criminal or financial penalty – emerged in the Home Office’s 2005 sentencing statistics.

Of the worst offenders punished last year, who are guilty of crimes potentially punished by the Crown Court, four in ten now escape with a caution. They include paedophiles, burglards and even some rapists.

In total, a staggering 299,000 cautions were handed out – up 17 per cent. This includes 199,000 children who were given so-called reprimands or final warnings. These are on top of the 146,500 drunks, thieves and thugs who escaped with on-the-spot fines and the 57,700 given a simple-ticking off smoking cannabis.

Before controversial changes to the law, made in 2004, both these groups could have expected at least a caution. As a result of the soft sentencing regime, the number of convicts sent to overcrowded jails was slashed by five per cent – with only 101,000 being sent down by the courts. By contrast, some 204,000 criminals were given more lenient community penalties, an increase of one per cent.

The most shocking revelation was that 51,000 violent attackers escaped with a caution in 2005, an increase of 39 per cent. It means thugs now have a 55 per cent chance of escaping with a caution, rather than being hauled before the courts. It includes 757 people guilty of life-threatening wounding and 588 who threatened to murder their victim.

Offenders cautioned for sex attacks rocketed by 13 per cent, to 1,8000. The cautioning rate is now an alarming 27 per cent. Some 17 people guilty of raping a woman were given a simple ticking-off, down from 40 last year. There were also five cautions for male rape.

Most cases involved either the elderly, young children or where for offences committed many years ago.

A total of 390 people were let-off with a caution for having underage sex, and three were ticked-off for child porn offences.

Burglary cautions increased by 15 per cent to 6,500 – or 22 per cent of those guilty. It means burglars have almost a one in four chance of simply being told not to do it again.

Theft cautions were up by nine per cent to 67,700, or 39 per cent of those punished. Cautions for criminal damage – supposedly a target of Tony Blair’s respect agenda – rose by 32 per cent to 7,200, or 38 per cent of those admitting guilt.

In three police force areas – Dyfed-Powys, Surrey and Warwickshire – criminals guilty of all offences had a better than 50-50 chance of receiving only a slap on the wrist.

The number of motorists punished by the courts made up almost 40 per cent of all people found guilty or cautioned, down six per cent. The total number of criminals found guilty in court fell by four per cent.

David Green, of the Civitas think-tank, said cautions were being used by police to reach Government targets for bringing more offenders to justice.

Bizarrely, the system gives no more importance to taking a criminal through the courts and securing a severe penalty than it does to giving a simple telling-off. As a result, police and prosecutors are going for the easy option. Dr Green added: “The problem is there is no deterrent effect for the criminal not to do it again. Most of those who receive a caution fell they have got away with it.”

Last year, the Daily Mail revealed Home Office guidance had told police to give serial criminals a string of cautions rather than take them to court. This is despite the fact cautions are supposed to be issued to offenders only once, as a warning that further lawbreaking will be severely punished.