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Offenders 'Escape Justice' With Police Cautions
Offenders including thieves, arsonists and drug traffickers are "escaping the justice system" in London by being issued with cautions from the Metropolitan Police.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show 29,560 police cautions were handed out to offenders by the Met over the past year.
They include 1,356 criminals who were cautioned for wounding or grievous bodily harm, and another 301 drug traffickers.
Criminals responsible for 286 sex offences - including two rapes - also avoided court by accepting the cautions.
Some 236 offenders have received the reprimands on more than five different occasions.
The use of criminal cautions has been condemned by critics, who argue that victims are being denied justice in an open court.
Tony Arbour, a Conservative London Assembly member who requested the figures, said: "The public can't have confidence in a system where so many offenders are dealt with outside of court, just so that cases can be disposed of quickly.
"In effect, these people are being let off - some characters on more than five occasions. Cautions and fines should only be used as a warning the first time a criminal is caught.
He added: "If you have been a victim of a serious assault or a burglary, with all the trauma that entails, and discover that the matter has simply been dealt with by a caution, you would be very angry.
"It may well be preventing people from coming forward and reporting crimes if they think it will just be disposed with by a caution.
"This should be a wake-up call to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)."
Mr Arbour argued that police are using the cautions as a cost-saving measure.
"If the police can say that they have caught the perpetrator and they have been punished, because a caution is a punishment, then that is helpful for their statistics.
"If the CPS think they are going to lose they may well feel that getting a satisfactory resolution and a cheap resolution is better than going to trial and losing."
But a spokesman for the Met said police follow official guidelines for issuing cautions, and use professional discretion when handing out the reprimands.
"A caution is a serious matter: they are not taken lightly and we are conscious of the consequences that this judicial disposal can have on a person's future," he said.
"It should also be recognised that they are used predominately to deal with first-time offenders and as an alternative to court appearance where guilt is admitted."