Child Sex Abusers Escaping Charges

Sex offenders who have admitted abusing children are being let off with a caution rather than being brought before the courts, the Belfast Telegraph has revealed. Almost 90 sex offenders have been cautioned in the province over the past two years rather than being charged.

Some of the cases which never made it to court – even though the offender pleaded guilty – involve child sex abuse. The PSNI said that cautions for sexual offences, which can only be issued after an admission of guilt, are only dealt out “after careful consideration has been given to the full circumstances”, including the views of the victim.

The perpetrator must also agree to sign the sex offenders’ register, which means they can be monitored by the authorities.

However, the news has raised major concerns with politicians and a leading charity. Policing Board member, Alex Maskey, has said he is worried by the revelations and is planning to raise the matter with the Chief Constable. The leading sex abuse victim’s charity Nexus also voiced fears that the policy may be a setback for victims.

The information, which was obtained by the Belfast Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act, includes 14 cautions for indecent assault on a child, two for taking indecent photographs or pseudo photographs of children, 20 for indecent assault on a female, 10 for indecent assault on a male and eight for gross indecency.

Cautions were also given for engaging in sexual activity in a public lavatory, indecent exposure, voyeurism and unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under 17.

Although the policy has sparked concern, the PSNI do not use the approach as prolifically as police in England where almost 8,000 sex offenders were cautioned over the past five years instead of being charged.

Offences involving children accounted for more than 1,600 of those cautions while more than 230 were for rape. Releasing the Northern Ireland statistics, a spokesman for the PSNI’s FOI team said: “Cautions for sexual offences are issued in accordance with national guidance and are issued only after careful consideration has been given to the full circumstances.

“There would need to be evidence and a clear admission of guilt, whilst age, welfare, mental well-being and the views of the victim would be taken into account.” However, Mr Maskey said: “I think it is very worrying indeed to hear that some people have been cautioned for what appears to be serious offences.”

He added: “We don’t know the specific details but it would be a matter of quite serious public concern that this type of offender is getting away with what appears to be a slap on the knuckles. I will be raising it with the Policing Board and with the PSNI directly.”

Nexus regional manager Chris Smallwoods said the policy is another example of how the “scales of justice in Northern Ireland are not balanced in support of the victim”. He added: “I would have genuine concerns about this. These people have broken the law and should receive some form of a sentence.”