By Ian Gallagher
Thousands of offenders who have admitted serious crimes including rape, conspiracy to murder and assault have been let off with warnings.
In one county alone two child rapists, 41 arsonists, 382 burglars, one drugs trafficker and more than 2,600 people guilty of wounding all received cautions.
The figures, from a two-and-a-half-year period, will increase fears that out-of-court punishments, meant for dealing with minor crimes, are being wrongly used.
Last year Justice Secretary Jack Straw ordered a review after admitting he had ‘concerns’ about variations in the way different forces were using cautions, which are aimed at cutting costs and steering low-level offences away from under-pressure courts.
They are issued at the discretion of the police if the offender admits their guilt.
In Lancashire, 11,679 offenders were given cautions, conditional warnings, reprimands or final warnings between April 2007 and November 2009, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The cases included two offenders who raped a child under 16, and 59 people charged with sexual assault on women and girls, some younger than 13.
The figures also include 11 people guilty of conspiracy to murder or making threats to murder and 12 others who carried out attacks that endangered lives.
A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: ‘We always look at the circumstances of each case individually, in consultation with the police and in accordance with national guidelines, before deciding whether a caution or conditional caution is appropriate or not.
‘It is only in exceptional circumstances that authority will be given by the CPS to issue a caution for the most serious type of offences.’
In November it was revealed that almost 40,000 cases of assault were dealt with by cautions in England and Wales during 2008. At the time, Jack Straw said there were very clear guidelines about when cautions should be used and it was ‘absolutely not the case’ they were being handed out as a means of keeping prison numbers down.