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Teenage muggers to be let off if they say sorry under new plans


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Teenage muggers to be let off if they say sorry under new plans


By James Slack

Last updated at 2:04 AM on 27th November 2008

Teenage thieves, vandals, muggers and burglars will escape any punishment if they agree to say sorry 'on the spot' under a proposed scheme.

First-time offenders given a Youth Restorative Disposal will receive no formal record provided they do not break the law again.

The architects of the YRD, to be tested in eight counties, say it will give 10 to 17-year-olds who commit 'low-level crimes' a chance to 'take responsibility' for their actions.


article-1089806-029C9E92000005DC-848_468x286.jpg Young offenders will escape punishment if they agree to say sorry under new proposals (posed by models)


Justice Minister David Hanson said: 'Court is often an inappropriate option for young people who have never committed any previous offence.

'This will steer young people away from trouble at the earliest possible stage, particularly if their first offence is very minor.

'By introducing this option for the police, bad behaviour can be nipped in the bud at the same time as the victim's feelings are addressed.

'It also frees up the police to deal with more serious offences.'

But critics are likely to seize on the measure as another move towards 'soft' justice.

Adult offenders can already escape with a caution if they agree to apologise, while shoplifters and thieves routinely escape with just an £80 on-the-spot fine.

Whitehall figures to be released today are expected to confirm this march towards summary justice, with more than half of all offences now punished outside the courts.

Tory justice spokesman Nick Herbert said YRDs must not become a 'soft option for young offenders who need to be dealt with robustly at an early stage'.

He added: 'If these disposals prevent further offending then they could have a role, but they must be used properly.'

Occasions when a YRD could be used include a vandal who says sorry for breaking a window or a thief who apologises for stealing from a shop.

article-1089806-005E951F00000258-525_233x313.jpg Nick Herbert says YRDs must not become a soft option for young offenders



The Youth Justice Board, which is in charge of the scheme, gave the example of two children who have a fight after school. Potentially-they could receive a conviction for causing actual bodily harm.

But by agreeing to hold talks together with a 'restorative justice' official, and apologising, they would escape any punishment.

YJB chairman Frances Done said: 'It gives a young person who offends for the first time a chance to take responsibility for their actions and improve their behaviour.

'We believe this is a positive way to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.'

Police backed the sanction saying it will cut down on paperwork.

Officers will decide to use it 'on the spot' and try to bring the criminal and victim together immediately to save on form filling.

Assistant Chief Constable Ian Shannon of North Wales Police said: 'The measure is effective and quick - giving us time to work on more serious criminals or simply getting back on the beat.'

The YJB said a young criminal can only receive one YRD, and can only go through the procedure if all parties are present and consent to it.

Officials said it prevents 'young people from being drawn into the criminal justice system unnecessarily, which is costly in time and resources and may not be the best way to deal with a young person who commits a low-level crime as their first offence'.

The YJB said that in some cases the apology would be backed by a plan to 'make good any damage'.

Serious crimes, such as drug, sexual and weapons offences, are excluded from the scheme.

Any YRD handed out will be recorded locally against the offender's name to ensure they do not escape with another apology if they commit another offence.

Earlier this year the Daily Mail reported how the increased use of on-the-spot fines had meant so few criminals were now being sent to court that magistrates' courts had cut their hours.

A leaked letter to Staffordshire magistrates said the drop was 'directly attributable to increased use of fixed penalties and notices by the police and Crown Prosecution Service'.

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