Rape charity concern over sex offence cautions

Generic picture of man in despair Since 2011, 642 cautions were issued for sex offences in the East of England, a BBC investigation found

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A rape charity says it has a "real concern" about the number of cautions issued for sex offences in the East of England after a BBC investigation.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has found that 642 cautions have been issued for sex offences in the region since 2011, including seven for rape.

Rape Crisis said it wanted a review of the issuing of cautions.

Police said cautions "act as a strong deterrent for most of those that receive them".

A caution is a formal warning issued by police to someone who has admitted to having committed a criminal offence.

Cautions are issued at the discretion of police, and enable a sanction to be given without going before the courts.

Number of cautions issued for sex offences since 2011

The BBC sent an FOI to the police forces covering Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Suffolk and Thames Valley Police.

Of those issued for rape, Norfolk and Suffolk each issued one caution, two were issued by Northamptonshire and three were issued by Thames Valley Police.

The offences include two rapes of a child under 13 years, by children under 14 years, and one rape of a female under 13 years by an 18-year-old.

Katie Russell, of Rape Crisis England and Wales, said: "It is of real concern that there continues to be a large number of cautions given for sexual offences, and that there is often wide variation between police forces.

Rape cautions since 2011

  • 1 caution was issued by both Norfolk and Suffolk Police

  • 2 were issued by Northamptonshire Police

  • 3 cautions were issued by Thames Valley Police

"Rape Crisis England and Wales would welcome a review of cautions, to look at these issues in more detail, and in particular to scrutinise what the age of the offenders covered by these figures were at the times of the offences, which may have a bearing on the case.

"In most cases involving adult rapists and sexual offenders, cautions are wholly inappropriate.

"Cautions do not reflect the gravity of these crimes or the long-term and wide-ranging impact of sexual violence on survivors."

Cautions act as "strong deterrent" and can "highlight a pattern of behaviour" that could be used in future prosecutions, said Supt Rory Freeman, head of criminal justice at Thames Valley Police.

Nick Alston, Essex Police and Crime Commissioner, said when he took up the post he was aware of public concern about cautions and reviewed six months of cautions.

Nick Alston Nick Alston, Essex Police and Crime Commissioner, said a caution may sometimes be the best way to stop someone reoffending

"The feedback was broadly reassuring. Police must have discretion, there will be mistakes but any mistakes must be followed up. Public scrutiny is a really good thing," he said.

'Consultation with family'

Andrew Wilson, head of justice department at Northamptonshire Police, said cautions issued for rape in the county related to two separate cases where a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old had consensual sex with a 14-year-old.

He said: "They were cautioned for underage sexual intercourse, which included registration on the sex offenders register. In one case the decision was made by the Crown Prosecution Service and both were in full consultation with the victims and their family."

Generic picture of woman in despair Police said cautions helped identify a pattern of behaviour

A spokeswoman for Hertfordshire Police said: "We have a proven track record of prosecuting offenders for sexual offences and securing sentences at court."

Det Supt Gary Ridgway, head of public protection at Cambridgeshire Police, said: "The decision to give a police caution is not taken lightly, is considered on a case by case basis and for the more serious offences is often taken in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service."

A Norfolk Police spokeswoman said: "When dealing with allegations of serious sexual offences a decision is made in consultation with a specialist lawyer from the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure the outcome is both proportionate and appropriate."

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