POLICE in South Yorkshire have defended their use of cautions for offences including rape and violent crime.
Figures released by South Yorkshire Police for cautions, warnings or reprimands issued between 2008 and 2011 show seven were issued for rape - two per cent of all the rapes solved - while cautions were issued for nine per cent of detected sexual offences, and 10 per cent of serious violent crimes.
There were 260 issued for burglaries - three per cent of all those where offenders were caught - plus 98 for arson and 171 for firearm possession.
But police chiefs stress 80 per cent of all detected crimes end up at court.
A spokesman said: “South Yorkshire Police uses cautions only in specific circumstances, where it is in the public interest and best serves the needs of justice.
“A typical example would be a case involving consensual sex between young teenagers. Home Office rules mean the case is classified as rape because of the girl’s age, but it is often not appropriate to take such a case through the courts because it criminalises the youngsters involved.
“Cautions are a very useful means of dealing with some offences and provide an alternative to court when the situation is right.
“It is not a ‘let off’, and it is placed on record. It is a legitimate opportunity for some people to be given a second chance rather than be put through the rigours of court and sentencing.
“We take a robust attitude to crime investigation and will continue to ensure serious offences are taken to court when it is the right course of action.”
The spokesman the firearms figure would include children caught with ball-bearing guns. And some ‘burglaries’ could involve children found in derelict homes.
He said another example of when a caution could be issued would be when an offender admits a sexual offence but their victim refuses to co-operate with a prosecution.
If the offender opted to stand trial and was acquitted because of a lack of prosecution evidence they would not be listed on the Sex Offenders’ Register - but if they accepted a caution out of court their details would be logged, meaning they could be monitored in future.
He said on ‘borderline’ cases the Crown Prosecution Service helps to make the decisions. There were 10,099 cautions issued in 2008, and 5,271 four years later.
n Call the National Rape Crisis helpline - 0808 802 9999.