100 rapists inc child rapists are let off with a caution: Serious offences that never come to court
More than 100 rapists have been let off with a police caution, it was revealed yesterday. The 111 cases included 66 incidents of child rape.
The extent to which police forces have handed cautions to rapists, whose crime carries a maximum sentence of life in jail, was made public as Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced a full-scale review of the system of punishing crime with cautions and on-the-spot fines.
Mr Straw acted after a weekend when senior police chiefs and the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC called for curbs on the use of out-of-court punishments.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson also condemned the ‘uncontrollable increase in cautions’ and said that on-the-spot fines, now often used to punish offences such as shoplifting, ‘in the public’s minds equate to a parking ticket.’
The system of fixed-penalty fines and cautions has been introduced over the past six years as a way to deal with minor crime cheaply and effectively.
But the disclosure that cautions have been used repeatedly to deal with rapists is the clearest demonstration that the system is now being used to keep the most serious crimes out of the courts.
The figures released to MPs by the Home Office show numbers of cautions handed to rapists after the 2003 Sexual Offences Act became law in May 2004.
Between that date and the end of 2007 there were 45 cases of rape of adults in which the rapist admitted guilt but was released with a caution.
In a further 66 cases individuals who admitted raping a child under 13 were freed with a caution.
The figures from the Home Office gave no indication of why police chose to use cautions to punish a crime which, in the case of adult rape, typically attracts a prison sentence of five years.
Nor do they say how many rapists have been cautioned rather than tried since 2007.
A high proportion of the 66 child rapes may have involved very young offenders, and the offenders in many of the cases of adult rapes may have been intimate partners of the victims.
However no caution can be given in any case except where the suspect admits guilt. Therefore in all 111 cases prosecutors denied the courts an opportunity to examine the evidence and decide on sentencing.
Tory home affairs spokesman James Brokenshire said: ‘It is deeply disturbing to think that the rape of a young child could be dealt with by little more than a telling off. The law should protect the vulnerable, yet Labour’s caution culture is increasingly letting them down.’
Decisions to allow crimes as serious as rape to be dealt with by cautions are taken by the Crown Prosecution Service rather than police officers, the Ministry of Justice said yesterday
Nevertheless the punishment faced by a rapist who is cautioned does not amount to anything more than two years on the sex offenders’ register.
Figures also show cautions proliferating for lesser offences.
Last year, according to the BBC’s Panorama programme, 39,000 people were cautioned for assault causing actual bodily harm.
There were 739 cautions for the much more serious offence of grievous bodily harm
More than half a million offenders have been given repeat cautions since 2000 and in eight years between 2000 and 2008 some 2.2million cautions were handed out in all for crimes, including burglary and assault.
Another half million penalty notices for disorder, handed out of drunkenness, shoplifting and similar more minor crimes, were handed out between 2005 and 2007. In half of the cases, the criminal did not pay up. There are also concerns that the penalty notices are now being used for burglary and robbery.
Mr Straw said yesterday that he and Home Secretary Alan Johnson are concerned at the use of out- of- court punishments. He added that a review would be run by the Office of Criminal Justice Reform.
He denied the Government had encouraged the use of cautions to reduce the prison population