Serious offenders are escaping justice because of erratic and inappropriate use of cautions and penalty notices, official figures show.
A fifth of sex offenders brought to justice were given a caution last year, and more than a quarter of cases of crimes of violence also ended in cautions being issued.
Many offenders are also escaping justice simply by not paying up after being issued with penalty notices, with up to £47m uncollected over the past eight years.
Overall, a third of all offences brought to justice last year involved an out-of-court disposal such as a caution or penalty notice.
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