100s of criminals being let off court

8:53am Thursday 4th April 2013

By Kate Liptrot

HUNDREDS of criminals including thieves, attackers and sexual offenders were spared court in North Yorkshire last year, sparking concerns from politicians and magistrates.

Figures obtained by The Press show 1,831 offences recorded by North Yorkshire Police in 2012 were dealt with through community resolution disposal orders, which prevent the offender having to attend court.

The orders aim to address victims’ wishes and suffering, but in some cases involve the offender being told simply to apologise.

Incidents included a sexual assault in a York bar, a robbery, possession of weapons and hundreds of thefts, drug offences and violent crimes.

Police said they followed national guidance, considering each case individually and taking account of its severity, the offender’s history and the victim’s wishes.

But a senior court official claimed they were being overused and Julia Mulligan, the county’s police and crime commissioner, has vowed to set up a panel to examine the issue.

The orders are intended for low-level crimes by people with little or no criminal record but their use has soared in North Yorkshire, from 386 in 2010 to 731 in 2011 to 1,831 last year. So far in 2013, 482 have been used.

Richard Monkhouse, deputy chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, said that nationwide, almost 100,000 indictable offences were dealt with outside court last year, some appropriately and some not.

He said he had heard of rape cases being processed outside court and said it was “inconceivable” some of the cases did not reach court.

He said North Yorkshire’s figures were high and said: “I would assume a third of the community resolution disposals made in North Yorkshire last year needed a bit more investigation and possibly should have gone to court. For cases that we may pass to the crown court to be dealt with out of court is just wrong.”

Mrs Mulligan said: “I have been concerned for a while now about this issue.”

She said she had committed in her police and crime plan to setting up an independent panel. She said: “The punishment must be suitable for the crime and my new, independent panel will help ensure this is the case.”

York Central MP Hugh Bayley said it was right that offenders had to confront the damage their offending caused and said out-of-court resolutions were useful for first-time offenders.

He said: “If magistrates are concerned community resolution disposals are being used too often, I think there does need to be some independent scrutiny and I can’t think of anyone better to do it than magistrates.”

A Victim Support spokesperson said: “Victims don’t always want harsh punishments, but they do want the response to fit the crime and make sure the offender doesn’t do it again. Although it’s up to the police to decide on when to use community resolutions, victims need to have these decisions clearly explained to them. Ultimately victims want to see justice done.”

The CRDs issued in North Yorkshire included 580 in York, 235 in Selby and 392 in Scarborough and Ryedale.


Police: each case judged on merits

A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said each case was considered on its own merits and circumstances, including the gravity and nature of the offence, the offender’s history and the victim’s wishes.

He said community resolution disposal was one of a number of options.

“This method of disposal allows the victim to have a greater voice in what happens to the offender and directs the offender to provide some form of reparation or restoration in respect of their offending behaviour,” he said.

A community resolution disposal would normally only take place with the written consent of the victim, who would sign a restorative agreement. He said the force followed national guidance and added: “We have received positive feedback from a number of victims and members of the public.”

Community disposal resolution orders issued by North Yorkshire Police in 2012

There were 1,831 in total, including:

• 514 for violence against the person, including possession of a bladed article, other weapons, assault causing injury, causing the public fear, alarm or distress and cruelty to children.

• 563 for theft

• 376 for drug offences

• 297 for criminal damage

• 45 for fraud and forgery

• 14 for burglary

• Eight for sexual offences

• One for robbery

• Two for vehicle theft

Offences included:

• A 22-year-old man who assaulted a 30-year-old woman in a York bar by touching

• A youth in his mid-teens found to have committed a minor sexual offence against two children in Knaresborough

• Two 12-year-olds who tried to sexually assault a teenage girl in Scarborough

• A robbery in York when a teenage boy used threatening behaviour to take a mobile phone from a teenage girl in a house, before returning it.

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