THOUSANDS of criminals, including sexual predators and violent offenders, have been allowed to slip through the system with just a slap on the wrist. SEAMUS MCDONNELL investigates the use controversial ‘community resolutions’ across Lancashire.

RAPISTS, burglars and violent criminals are among the most serious offenders in society.

But an investigation by The Lancashire Telegraph, in collaboration with the BBC, has found offenders accused of these crimes are slipping through the system with just a slap on the wrist.

So-called ‘community resolutions’, which can include an apology or compensation to the victim instead of full prosecutions, are being used by police in thousands of cases in Lancashire.

Our investigation has found more than 15,000 criminals, including those accused of rape, aggravated burglary and other serious offences, have all be dealt with using these controversial powers in the past five years across the region.

Unlike a caution or full prosecution, it means these criminals are not left with a criminal record.

A leading charity has hit out at the process, suggesting victims of serious offences are being “denied the justice they deserve” and left feeling that the system has let them down.

But, police say this system does not let offenders escape justice and can actually empower victims by “giving them a voice” in the process.

It involves the guilty party, police and victims making an informal agreement, often involving an apology or fixing damage caused - but the system is voluntary and unenforceable.

Victim Support, which helps people who have suffered at the hands of criminals, called the trend of using Community Resolutions in serious cases “seriously concerning”.

A spokesman for the charity said that using these resolutions to deal with violent or sexual offences could leave victims feeling that the “justice system does not work for them”.

“Community Resolutions can be effective for dealing with low level offences, as long as the views of the victims have been firmly taken into account,” the spokesman said.

“However, the fact that they are being used in cases where a serious offence has been committed, such as a sexual offence, is seriously concerning.

“It is wholly inappropriate to use them in these cases as it means that victims are denied the justice they deserve, and the public could be put at risk if violent and sexual offenders are not receiving a criminal record.”

In Lancashire since 2014 there have been three cases of rape and a further case of child abduction which were solved out of court.

In addition, there were two people stopped for distraction burglaries, one for aggravated burglary and more than 50 offenders stopped for burglaries at homes and businesses who were all able to go through a community resolution and avoid prosecution.

A spokesman for Lancashire Police said the resolution of each case is assessed by officers who only choose to deal with cases out of court if it is appropriate and comes with the victim's permission.

They also pointed to the use of restorative justice, which is often part of a community resolution and aims to rehabilitate offenders and make them understand the impact they are having on victims.

“Community resolutions, including restorative justice, offer clear benefits to both the victim and offender, and give police flexibility to deal with a variety of offences effectively," the spokesman said.

“Guidelines are in place to help with the decision about whether a community resolution is appropriate, but in every case the decision will be victim-led and will reflect their views and wishes above all else.

“While community resolutions are mainly used to deal with less serious offences, there are times when it may be appropriate to use informal resolutions to deal with more serious cases.

“Victims of crime say that meeting the offender can bring them a degree of closure, while going through a restorative justice meeting has also been proven to have more impact on an offender than a prison sentence or court punishment alone, as they see the consequences of their actions. This often has a positive effect on their future behaviour."

Former justice secretary and Blackburn MP Jack Straw agreed that systems of restorative justice can help to teach criminals and stop reoffending.

"Restorative justice has got an important role to play, particularly if the perpetrator is known to the victim and in other cases," he said.

"It's something which must be appropriately used. It's got to be appropriate and with the informed and entirely independent consent of the victim."

In 2015, use of community intervention declined rapidly after the government’s Home Affairs Committee published figures suggesting nearly a third of out of court resolutions were inappropriate to the crime.

How does it work? 

COMMUNITY Resolutions are a tool meant to be used by police to keep less serious cases out of court.

They are not convictions, do not appear on criminal records and will not be disclosed in a standard DBS check.

The idea of this kind of action is that it gives gives police a chance to deal with minor incidents proportionally while still giving victims a chance to be part of the process.

These resolutions are often used in situations where the offender has committed their first crime or the victim does not want to push for formal action. They can also be coupled with restorative justice, which focuses on rehabilitation.

But, the government says its guidance to police is clear that this should not be used for serious offences or without the agreement of the victim.

Forces also have regular scrutiny panels which review these cases in order to make sure these orders - and other out of court options given to police - are used appropriately.