Violent criminals, burglars and sex offenders are among more than 100,000 people escaping prosecutions each year by opting for community resolutions, according to new figures.
The informal punishments, which mean the offender can avoid getting a criminal record, are used by police forces dealing with a range of low-level offences.
But the latest analysis suggests that more serious offenders are also taking advantage of the system, with some forces using them to deal with sex offences, violence, burglary and the possession of weapons.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council has said that community resolutions should not be used in the most serious cases, but data obtained by the BBC suggests they have even been used to deal with allegations of rape.
According to the figures around 112,000 offenders have been dealt with through community resolution orders each year since 2014.
They have included some 2,500 sex offences, 27 rapes, 3,555 burglaries, 156,000 violent offences and 1,720 allegations of cruelty towards children.
Community resolutions can include a range of options, including having the offender apologise to the victim in person and paying them compensation.
Unlike a caution or an out of court disposal, the community resolution does not lead to a criminal record.
Durham Constabulary has operated the Checkpoint programme for a number of years, allowing offenders for a range of offences to avoid court by agreeing to take part in a four-month scheme.
But critics have warned that they are increasingly being used for cases that are not appropriate.
Chris Henley QC, who chairs the Criminal Bar Association, said: “What is clear from the figures is that contrary to their original purpose and the very clear guidance given to the police, community resolutions are being used to deal with more and more serious offences.
“This shouldn’t be happening. These cases should be resolved formally in a courtroom. It is unsurprising that offenders arrested for serious crime leap at the offer of an informal community resolution order.”