Thousands of criminals have avoided prosecution in Greater Manchester by saying ‘sorry’ to their victims.
Sex offenders, arsonists, harassers and people who have threatened to kill are among those who have been allowed to apologise rather than being hauled before the courts.
Almost 3,500 incidents of violent crime were dealt with by means of ‘community resolution’ and restorative justice last year.
Greater Manchester Police say the methods ‘empower’ victims who do not want formal action - and prevent re-offending.
But Blackley and Broughton MP Graham Stringer has criticised the approach, raising concerns offenders are being dealt with through a ‘cosy agreement’.
Of the 3,483 violent crimes dealt with this way in 2016/17, 38 were sexual assaults, 24 were cases of arson, 53 involved threats to kill, and 529 were of harassment.
The majority of the cases involved assault without injury (1,172) and criminal damage (1,300).
A number of sexual offences involved children sharing inappropriate images.
Police said that in these circumstances, the approach provides the opportunity to educate young people, prevents unnecessary criminalisation, and provides an opportunity for people to apologise for their actions and understand the damage they caused.
A community resolution can involve an apology or a ‘reparation’, such as paying for any criminal damage.
The violent offences dealt with in this way represented 5.2 per cent of the 67,039 violent crimes recorded by Greater Manchester Police for the year - one of the highest shares of any force in England and Wales.
Guidance from the College of Policing says victims should be consulted before a community resolution goes ahead; that it should be ‘a less serious offence’; and that the offender must admit they committed the crime.
Like many other forces GMP reduced its use of community resolutions last year.
Overall in 2016/17 the force used them 8,579 times, compared to 9,631 the year before.
Across England and Wales, police used community resolutions 104,000 times in 2016/17, compared to 120,000 times the year before.
Head of profession and neighbourhoods for GMP Claire Light said:
Community resolutions are an effective method of dealing with certain offences because they will often have a restorative feature that can be hugely beneficial to the victim in terms of coping and recovery.
MP Graham Stringer said people have a ‘right to know’ who has been accused of serious crime.
I think for serious crime, like arson and sexual assault, if there is a case to be answered it should be answered in court.
Khamran Uddin is an example of how restorative justice can work.
As a teenager his life fell apart in an orgy of crime and violence.
One of his victims was Tim Isherwood, a university lecturer. Tim was waiting for a train at Hyde’s Flowery Field railway station when he was hit in the face with a baseball bat during a robbery.
The blow from Khamran knocked out three of his teeth and he required dental surgery.
Khamran was jailed for four years but after his release, the Cheshire and Greater Manchester Community Rehabilitation Company arranged a restorative justice conference in which he met Tim.
That meeting, two years ago, has changed his life.
He is now about to start work as a volunteer for the probation service which helped him.
“I have been accepted as a peer mentor and I have done my training.” “The way I look at it, I can use what happened to me in a positive way.
Recalling his meeting with Tim, he said:
I affected his whole life, physically and mentally. But he accepted my apology and wished me the best. It was a very powerful moment.”
On the night of the attack Khamran had argued with his girlfriend. He used the assault on Tim, with other members of a gang to vent his anger.
“Meeting Tim was crazy. I expected he’d be scared or nervous, but he was smiling as if I was a friend. I opened up and told him everything.
Khamran, 24, is now working in sales, but meeting Tim has widened his ambitions.
I have hindered my chances by what I did, but my dream job is to be a policeman. I just want to help people. It breaks my heart to see youngsters aspiring to a bad-boy image. I don’t understand why they find it attractive - and I want to let them know where they could end up.”
His meeting with Tim has been included as part of a play which has been staged at three theatres in London.
After meeting him in 2015, Tim said:
I talked about the faith I have in our shared humanity, which meant that what I wanted him to do more than anything was to become a useful member of society. Restorative Justice offered me the chance to have a positive impact on someone’s life.”