'Let burglars off with caution', police told | the Daily Mail'Let burglars off with caution', police told
08:08am 3rd April 2006
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Burglars will be allowed to escape without punishment under new instructions sent to all police forces. Police have been told they can let them off the threat of a court appearance and instead allow them to go with a caution.
The same leniency will be shown to criminals responsible for more than 60 other different offences, ranging from arson through vandalism to sex with underage girls.
New rules sent to police chiefs by the Home Office set out how seriously various crimes should be regarded, and when offenders who admit to them should be sent home with a caution.
A caution counts as a criminal record but means the offender does not face a court appearance which would be likely to end in a fine, a community punishment or jail.
Is this justice? Should criminals be let off with just a caution? Tell us in readers comments below.
Some serious offences - including burglary of a shop or office, threatening to kill, actual bodily harm, and possession of Class A drugs such as heroin or cocaine - may now be dealt with by caution if police decide that would be the best approach.
And a string of crimes including common assault, threatening behaviour, sex with an underage girl or boy, and taking a car without its owner's consent, should normally be dealt with by a caution, the circular said.
The Home Office instruction applies to offenders who have admitted their guilt but who have no criminal record.
They are also likely to be able to show mitigating factors to lessen the seriousness of their crime.
The instruction to abandon court prosecutions in more cases - even for people who admit to having carried out serious crimes - comes in the wake of repeated attempts by ministers and senior judges to persuade the courts to send fewer criminals to jail.
The crisis of overcrowding in UK prisons has also prompted moves to let many more convicts out earlier.
It emerged last month that some violent or sex offenders, given mandatory life sentences under a "two-strike" rule, have been freed after as little as 15 months.
The latest move provoked condemnation yesterday from Tories and critics of the justice system.
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "Yet again the Government is covertly undermining the penal system and throwing away the trust of ordinary citizens that criminals will be punished and punished properly.
"In the last few weeks we have witnessed a serial failure of Labour to protect the citizen, with murders of innocent people by criminals variously on early release or probation, and now we're finding that ever more serious crimes are not being brought to court at all."
Criminologist Dr David Green, of the Civitas think-tank, said: "They appear to have given up making the court system work and doing anything about delays and the deviousness of defence lawyers.
"This is part of the wider problem that the Home Office has an anti-prison bias. But while they regard prison as uncivilised, they don't seem to care whether the alternatives work or not."
The Home Office circular to police forces has been sent amid a Government drive to reduce the number of cases coming before the courts.
A number of crimes - notably shoplifting - are now regularly dealt with by fixed penalty notices similar to a parking fine.