ACCORDING to the government website www.gov.uk, cautions are given to over-18s who have committed “minor crimes”.
The example given is writing graffiti on a bus shelter.
The suspect has to admit the offence and agree to be cautioned. A caution is not a criminal conviction, but it can be used as evidence of bad character if the offender goes to court for another crime.
Guidance from the Home Office in 2008 said a caution was not appropriate if the offence was serious – especially if it was so serious that it could only be tried in a crown court.
So why is it that, in Leeds, hundreds of such crimes – from burglaries and robberies to child sex offences – have been dealt with by way of a caution?
The 2008 guidance goes on to say that there are serious cases in which cautions are appropriate “because of the particular circumstances of the offence or the offender”.
Supt Keith Gilert, who is in charge of the community safety partnership Safer Leeds, insisted cautions were not a “let-off”.
“Cautions are a recognised and legitimate alternative to criminal prosecution that are imposed in line with national guidance,” he said.
“They are formally recorded and have implications should a person commit offences in the future.
“The decision to deal with offences by way of caution is not taken lightly and is only made after careful, subjective consideration of each case.
“A wide range of factors is considered, including the wishes of the victim, the offender’s previous history, and any aggravating or mitigating circumstances.
“Statistics alone don’t give the full picture.”
David Tucker, from the NSPCC, said child sex offenders should usually face a criminal trial, but there were cases when a prosecution was not in the victim’s best interests.
He said: “Giving evidence against a sex offender is often an extremely traumatic experience for a child so it is sometimes better to save them from this ordeal.
“There could also be occasions when they are reluctant to go to court for various reasons.
“In these circumstances it may be the best course of action to give an offender a caution which means they accept their guilt and also get a criminal record.”