Sex Offenders Cautions Spark Outcry

Hundreds of sex offenders across Wales have been let off with their crimes – despite admitting their guilt, we can reveal. A Wales on Sunday investigation has discovered that police and the Crown Prosecution Service have released hundreds of offenders onto our streets with just a caution rather than take them to court, where they could face a jail sentence.

Rapists and paedophiles are believed to be among those who have been allowed to walk free without a criminal record, despite making confessions.

Many of those have not been put on the Sex Offenders’ Register, meaning police and probation officers have no idea where they are working and living.

The situation has been described as “outrageous” by Monmouth MP David Davies, who leads the Stop All Forms of Early Release (SAFER) campaign, which calls on the legal system to ensure the punishment fits the crime.

The Crown Prosecution Service says a high proportion of those given police cautions for sex offences are children committing offences on other children, with cases involving under-16s sleeping with boyfriends or girlfriends.

However, bosses at the Home Office insist a caution is not an appropriate sanction for rape or for offences against children.

MP Mr Davies said: “I think that cautions per se are a very bad thing that are used as a way of allowing offenders to get off scot free, when in fact punishing first-time offenders is just as important, if not more than, as punishing others. I’m particularly worried when it’s people who have committed sexual offences.”

Mr Davies said he is not worried about cases where children have been cautioned for sleeping with girlfriends or boyfriends, describing them as “not a threat to society”. But he added: “The rest are totally outrageous. They’re getting off scot free.”

During the past five years, police have issued cautions to 508 people for committing sex offences.

The cautions, which are a formal admission of guilt, allow the police to dispose of the case without going to court.

The nation’s four police forces, South Wales, Gwent, North Wales and Dyfed-Powys, were asked by WoS to supply figures under the Freedom of Information Act on how many people had been cautioned for sexual offences in the past five years.

All four of the forces issued cautions to people admitting rape.

The forces returned different lists of offences, making a direct comparison impossible. But each force issued cautions to people who committed sex acts with children.

Officials from the Home Office, Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), Crown Prosecution Service and police forces said that occasionally, it was entirely appropriate to issue a caution when it was in the public interest.

An Acpo spokeswoman said: “We issue cautions on the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service. We can’t comment on these individual cases in Wales as we don’t know the details of each case. Each case has obviously been judged on its merits.

“However, a caution is better than nothing as with a caution at least it is being recorded by the police.”

Dyfed-Powys Police issued more than twice as many cautions for sex offences as any other force.

A spokeswoman for the force said: “We utilise cautions in accordance with national guidance and a proportion of offenders in these cases are themselves children.

“Dyfed Powys Police, like other forces, is regularly inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and in 2006 a Thematic Inspection on Detections was conducted by HMI which included cautions. This inspection looked at data testing and management arrangements and awarded the Force a ‘good’ grade.”

Only since May 1, 2004, have people receiving cautions for sex offences been put on the Sex Offenders’ Register. Before that, their details were not recorded. Since then anyone receiving a caution remains on the register for two years.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “Without knowing the facts behind each of your cases, it is highly unlikely these figures relate to adults committing serious sex offences against children. An adult would not walk away with a caution in such an instance.

“More commonly, police cautions are given to people when the victim and the perpetrator are both children or if the adult has a lower mental capacity.

“A caution could also be given in circumstances, for example, where the parents of a 13-year-girl may go to the police and claim their daughter is sleeping with a 16-year-old boy.

“If the girl turns around and denies it, saying the pair are in love, then the police may well decide to issue a caution in a case such as this.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The use of cautions in individual cases is a matter for the police and the CPS who would only use such a sanction under the most exceptional circumstances.

“In general, we feel that a caution is not an appropriate sanction for rape or for offences against children. However, the police and CPS must have flexibility to act in the best interests of the victim in exceptional circumstances.”