Hundreds of sex offenders - including rapists and paedophiles - have been allowed to go free . . . despite admitting their guilt.
A Sunday Sun investigation has discovered that police and the Crown Prosecution Service have allowed hundreds of offenders on to the region's streets rather than take them to court, where they could face a jail sentence.
Rapists and paedophiles are among those who have been allowed to walk free without a criminal record, despite making confessions.
Worryingly, some of those caught and cautioned by police have avoided being placed on the national Sex Offenders Register . . . meaning police and probation officers do not know where they are living and working.
The situation has been described as "deeply worrying" by one of the region's MPs. During the past five years, police have issued cautions to 773 people for committing sex offences. The cautions, which are a formal admission of guilt, allow the police to dispose of the case without going to court. Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said: "This is deeply worrying. People shouldn't be receiving cautions for offences as serious as this.
"If they are admitting their guilt, they should be taken to court. Justice should be seen to be done."
Former Durham Police chief superintendent Lord Brian Mackenzie expressed surprise that cautions had been issued for offences as serious as rape.
He said: "It is difficult to say without knowing the exact circumstances. There are circumstances where a caution is appropriate, but in the vast majority of cases, it should go to court."
The region's five police forces, Cleveland, Cumbria, Durham, Northumbria and North Yorkshire, were asked to supply figures under the Freedom of Information Act on how many people had been cautioned for sexual offences in the past five years.
Three of the forces, Cumbria, Durham and Northumbria, issued cautions to people admitting rape. The five forces returned different lists of offences, making a direct comparison impossible. However, each force issued cautions to people who committed sex acts with children.
Officials from the Home Office, Association of Chief Police Officers - Acpo - Crown Prosecution Service and police forces said that occasionally, it was entirely appropriate to issue a caution when it was in the public interest.
An Acpo spokeswoman said: "A conditional caution may be appropriate where a Crown Prosecutor considers that, while the public interest justifies a prosecution, the interests of the suspect, victim and community may be better served by the suspect complying with suitable conditions."
A Cleveland Police spokeswoman said the force would take into account whether there was sufficient evidence of guilt, any cautions for similar offences, mitigating or aggravating factors and the wishes of the victim.
Only since May 1, 2004 have people receiving cautions for sex offences been put on the Sex Offenders Register. Before that, their details were not recorded. Since then, anyone receiving a caution remains on the register for two years.
Mr Atkinson said: "The fact that until 2004 people weren't put on the Sex Offenders Register is another prime example of the Home Office being overworked and undermanned." The figures!