THOUSANDS of offenders have escaped prosecution in Cumbria - an investigation has revealed.

Figures analysed by the BBC Shared Data Unit revealed that Cumbria police resolved 4,442 crimes with a Community Resolution (CR) since 2014. These include offences as serious as violence crimes, sex offences and weapon possession.

CRs are an out-of-court disposal designed to tackle less serious offending and anti-social behaviour. They are not convictions, do not appear on criminal records and will not be disclosed in a standard DBS check.

Workington MP Sue Hayman and South Lakes MP Tim Farron have condemned the findings, placing the blame on cuts to police budgets.

But Ben Swinson, Chief Inspector at Cumbria Constabulary, insisted a CR is sometimes the most suitable option to deal with a case.

In 2015, use of CRs started to decline after the House of Commons' Home Affairs Committee published a report suggesting around 30 per cent of out-of-court disposals previously recorded may have been inappropriately issued.

The investigation shows that in 2014/15, Cumbria had the fourth highest number of CRs in England, with six per cent of crimes ending with the out-of-court-disposal. The force issuing the highest number of CRs was Suffolk (9%) and the average for the country was four per cent.

Despite the average of CRs issued across the country falling to three per cent in 2016/17 and 2017/18, Cumbria recorded the third highest percentage of four per cent in both financial years.

Labour's Mrs Hayman said: "These findings are truly shocking, and highlight how community resolutions are being used completely inappropriately for the most serious of crimes. Labour has committed to strengthening the law and banning the use of community resolutions as a response to such crimes as domestic violence.

"Huge cuts to our police forces have left officers having to do cover rising rates of crime with fewer resources. That's why, in Government, Labour would recruit 10,000 additional front-line police officers, to ensure that people can feel safe in their communities."

In 2016/17 five per cent of violence offences were dealt with by way of CR, including three cases of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Lib Dem's Mr Farron said: "These figures are deeply concerning. As our police have become more and more under pressure through heavy budget cuts, it sadly comes as no surprise that we are seeing an increase in community resolutions. That's why I won't stop campaigning to get more officers on our streets to help keep us safe and ensure that justice is fully carried out."

Conservative Trudy Harrison, Copeland MP, said: "Any sentence should consider the paramount importance of protecting the public from serious criminals, send a strong message that crime will not be tolerated and justice will be done, but also serve to reform wherever possible, balancing the interests of victims. It is in no one's best interest to lock people up, only to have them re-offend upon release because of a lack of effective support to live a life without crime."

Chief Inspector Swinson said: "First of all, what should be stressed is these are low percentages in the overall picture of the differing disposal options for crimes committed within Cumbria In certain specific circumstances, an out-of-court disposal might be the most suitable option to deal with a case.This is an alternative disposal to a court case and can include outcomes such as a caution, conditional caution and community resolutions.

"It is highly appropriate to use them in certain circumstances, both from a public interest point of view and as an effective and proportionate criminal justice process. We record that a crime has occurred but it might not be in the public interest or the interest of the individuals involved to progress the case to court.

"For instance, we don't want to criminalise children for what could be a one-off mistake in their youth. It is also about the wishes of the victims. Not all victims want to go to court. Take, for example, criminal damage - the victim may not wish to go to court over a smashed window if the offender makes amends. This could see them pay and apologise for the damage. It gives offenders the chance to remedy mistakes. To possibly right the wrong. This may be a more effective and better way of showing the offender the impact of what they have done.

"In certain circumstances, this can be a better process than going through a court case. We also take into account the suspect themselves, factors such as their previous offending history. It may be their first offence and there are no aggravating factors.

"In terms of some of the crimes, a drugs offence could be simple possession of class C drugs for personal use by someone under-18. Thefts could be a first offence of shoplifting.

"The constabulary is scrutinised by an out-of-court scrutiny panel, made up of professional partners and wider peers, including magistrates and representatives from Victim Support. The panel examines a range of cases, but has a focus on sexual offences, violence and other specific categories to make sure our use of out-of-court disposals are appropriate. Any feedback is given back to the constabulary and the findings of the panel are made public; this provides the public with the reassurance that the out-of-court disposals are used in the correct manner."