HAMPSHIRE police has come under fire for letting thousands of offenders escape prosecution for crimes as serious as robbery, drug trafficking and possession of offensive weapons.
Since 2014, the county’s police force has resolved almost 18,900 crimes with a community resolution, a method of dealing with crimes outside of the court, an investigation has found.
The study by the BBC showed Hampshire issued 52 community resolutions for sex offences between 2014 and 2018, 10 for robbery – a crime which can carry a life sentence – 996 for drug offences and 4,435 of the orders for violent crimes.
While figures obtained by The News for the past year revealed officers had issued a further four resolutions to deal with robberies between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019, while 48 were handed out to deal with drug traffickers and 75 for possession of a weapon.
Police say community resolutions were used sparingly to handle ‘low-level’ offending – with a high number involving first-time offenders or youngsters.
However, politicians and support groups and concerned by the figures and are now calling for change.
Dr Alison Elderfield, from the independent charity Hampshire Victim Support, agreed resolutions could be effective for low-level offences ‘as long as the views of the victims’ were ‘firmly taken into account’.
‘However, it is very concerning and completely inappropriate for community resolutions to be used in cases where a serious crime has been committed, such as a sexual offence,’ she said.
‘In these instances victims are potentially denied an opportunity to achieve justice.
‘The public could be put at risk if violent and sexual offenders are not receiving criminal record.’
Community resolutions are not convictions and do not appear on criminal records. Nor will they be disclosed in a standard DBS check.
Figures issued by the Home Office revealed that nationally, out of more than 15 million crime outcomes recorded between 2014/15 and 2017/18, some 449,000 were community resolutions, representing three per cent of all outcomes recorded during that period, with Hampshire’s standing at about two per cent.
Resolutions were issued for 29,000 drugs offences including 1,029 for drugs trafficking, while 68,131 were handed out for criminal damage and arson, with 109 for arson endangering life.
Some 4,963 were issued for possession of weapons – 99 were recorded for possession of firearms with intent, 1,927 for possession of an article with blade or point and 1,689 for possession of firearms.
Almost 156,000 of the orders were issued to deal with violent offences against the person, with 70,794 issued for assault with injury and 1,724 for cruelty to children, 81 for endangering life, 463 for assault with intent to cause serious harm, 37 kidnappings and 10 child abductions.
Disturbingly, the Metropolitan Police issued one community resolution for an attempted murder, the BBC claimed.
Deputy Chief Constable Sara Glen of Hampshire police, who is also the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for charging and out of court disposals, has since defended the county’s use of the orders.
She said they were only considered where the offender had ‘accepted responsibility’ and had ‘no previous offending history’ and insisted all decisions were overseen by a scrutiny panel.
She added: ‘In Hampshire, data from the last year shows that out of more than 157,000 outcomes, 5,433 were community resolutions. That is three per cent of our outcomes.
‘We have not issued any community resolutions for rape, and 16 have been issued for other sexual offences.
‘Please be reassured that we have examined each of these cases, and the majority are peer-on-peer incidents involving juveniles who are in relationships but are not yet at the age of consent.
‘Their age is a factor in them not being able to provide consent, so we still have to record these crimes and a community resolution is appropriate in these circumstances.
‘In assault cases, the majority of incidents involved minor injury, and a number involved fights between young persons.
‘Our officers are professional decision-makers and on a daily basis make decisions about how to achieve the best outcome, when to give a community resolution, a conditional caution or pursue a charge with our CPS. We do take victim’s wishes into account.
‘Officers are making decisions about whether it is fair and proportionate to give someone a criminal record for their first minor offence, when they’ve accepted responsibility, offered to remedy the crime, is considered unlikely to reoffend, and can be given a sanction that deters further offending.’
The force expected to see the number of community resolutions used for indictable offences - like robbery - to decrease as a new national strategy on out-of-court disposals was implemented, she said.
Community resolutions for such serious crimes must be authorised by an officer of a rank not lower than Inspector, Deputy Chief Constable Glen added.
Michael Lane, Hampshire police and crime commissioner, said: ‘My first priority will be the victim in the context of justice being fairly and appropriately discharged.
‘Effective justice should reflect the nature of the crime and level of harm caused, and it is my belief that in seeking to maximise the positive impact for our communities – we should do “what works” for the victim.’
He said the resolutions were a ‘key part’ of the whole criminal justice system that gave ‘victims a voice’.
Mr Lane added: “It is vital that there are checks and balances in place and it is the role of the scrutiny panel for out of court disposals to review sample cases to ensure that the right decisions around community resolutions are being made. Should the panel raise concerns these must be acted upon by the constabulary.’