Falmouth children escaping criminal convictions by saying 'sorry'
MORE than 120 children in Falmouth, some as young as 10, have escaped being given criminal records by saying they are sorry for crimes such as assaults and malicious wounding.
They have gone through the Restorative Justice programme, which enables victims and offenders to have a say on punishment.
They are just some of the 483 people in total in the Falmouth and Penryn area to go through the process since 2008.
Of the 123 youths aged 10 to 17 to benefit from the scheme, 26 were aged 12 or under.
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Among their crimes were causing fear or provocation of violence, assault causing actual bodily harm, common assault and battery, criminal damage and burglary. Other crimes included theft, shoplifting, taking a car and making nuisance or hoax calls.
They have written letters of apology or said it in person, painted over graffiti, repaired damaged property and paid for stolen goods.
But the police say they are not being soft on crime, but instead making the punishment more appropriate and helping to reduce reoffending.
Inspector Steve Lenney, from Falmouth, said: "We don't want to conduct a murder inquiry for a £10 shoplifting incident.
"This puts the victims' wishes at the heart of everything. It allows them to have a say in the outcome. We have to look at what is a justified and appropriate response."
He said often the banding of the crime sounded worse that it was: "It could be [classed] as one thing, but would never be charged as that. For example, an assault could be a punch-up in a playground."
The number of adult and youth offenders in the area 'making amends' for their crimes, rather than facing prosecution, has more than doubled in four years.
In 2009, a total of 86 people went through it, with 53 in Falmouth and 33 in Penryn, but last year there were 169, 114 in Falmouth and 55 in Penryn. Crimes include criminal damage, assault, shoplifting, theft, harassment, burglary, fraud and stealing cars.
Inspector Lenney said he expected that figure to rise as it was used more often as a tool in community policing: "Thirty years ago someone would have been given the proverbial clip around the ear by a policeman and ten years ago an assault in the playground would have led to prosecution."