West Mercia Police criticised for out of court resolutions

Magistrates have said they are concerned by the number of serious offences being dealt with out of court in the West Mercia Police area.

Figures obtained by the BBC in a Freedom of Information request show a 123% rise in the force's use of community resolutions in the last year.

They covered some offences as serious as sexual assault and threats to kill.

Superintendent Steve Cullen said it was very rare for serious offences to be dealt with in this way.

Community resolutions can include offenders repairing damage, writing letters of apology, doing unpaid work and making donations to charity.

In the last year 1,337 people in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire received a community resolution for theft, compared with 520 in 2009-10.

Lack of transparency

Last year 13 people received a community resolution for arson, compared with just one in 2009-10.

A total of 43 people were also dealt with in this way for causing grievous bodily harm, compared with 20 in 2009-10.

The use of community resolutions for sexual offences, including distribution of child pornography and sexual assaults on under 13-year-olds, remained level in the last year and in single figures.

Supt Cullen said: "Only around 5% to 6% of all crime is dealt with by way of community resolution.

"The vast majority of times that it's used is for offences such as criminal damage, very minor assault or theft.

"It is very much by exception a serious crime or a serious offender would be dealt with in this way.

"Unlike the criminal justice system process, the victim can have a say on how the offender should be dealt with."

John Thornhill, chairman of the Magistrates Association of England and Wales, said the problem with community resolutions, on-the-spot fines and cautions, was the lack of transparency.

He said: "Any member of the public can come into a magistrates' court, but these out of court disposals were being administered in the police station, where nobody knew what was happening.

"They are being used for offences which should be brought to court."

Unlike cautions, community resolutions are not recorded on the Police National Computer.

Supt Cullen said: "We specifically target this method of disposal at young people. We try to divert them from criminal activity.

"What we're trying to do is give people the opportunity to make good what may be a mistake, a one-off, so their future isn't ruined."

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