Police force to prosecute fewer motorists: Chief constable will focus resources on fight against rising crime. Terry Kirby reports

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A CHIEF constable has said that his force will let off some offending motorists with cautions in order to concentrate police resources on crime.

Announcing a 'sympathetic and tolerant approach' to offending drivers, Peter Joslin, Chief Constable of Warwickshire, said the public were disillusioned with a system that appeared to be 'soft on criminals and hard on the motorist'. The initiative was designed to redress the balance.

Mr Joslin said that from Monday, more offenders were likely to be cautioned rather than prosecuted or served with a fixed penalty ticket. He emphasised that serious speeders and reckless or drink-drivers would still be punished.

The aim of the initiative was also to improve driving standards - some bad drivers who faced prosecution would instead be invited to visit a police exhibition for advice and information on good driving. 'Courtesy costs nothing. If the risk of danger on the roads can be minimised by a more compassionate and patient attitude on the part of the police, then such a change must surely be justified,' he said.

The force said the policy was a formal adoption of an approach it had developed over recent years. It is believed to be the only police force in the country openly to announce such a policy; colleagues of Mr Joslin's, a former chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' traffic committee, will watch public reaction closely.

The move may divide chief constables. Last year, Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, warned the police against a heavy-handed attitude towards middle-class motorists, although he was later criticised by a number of chief constables including Sir Peter Imbert, the then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

A spokesman for Warwickshire said the policy had developed as a necessary response to rising crime, which has increased by 30 per cent in 1990, 23 per cent in 1991 and 11 per cent last year. Speeding offences dropped by 10 per cent last year while burglaries rose by more than 25 per cent. 'Ask people what offences they would rather see investigated and the majority will say a burglary rather than a minor speeding offence, such as someone doing 41mph in a 30mph area - which is the type of offence where we will now caution. This is not simply a short-term campaign, it's a philosophical switch,' the spokesman said.

Although the force is one of the smallest, its 170 miles of motorway give it more miles per head of population than anywhere else. The spokesman added: 'Drivers from all over the country pass through Warwickshire on the motorway and will now be subject to the policy.'

A spokesman for the Automobile Association welcomed the initiative. 'We are very pleased to hear Mr Joslin's decision. It is just as much of a deterrent to give someone a warning rather than clogging up the courts. It is a good thing to separate motoring offences from criminal offences since many people do not consider speeding a criminal offence.'