Perpetrators of almost 60 drug offences brought to court in the South Tyrone and Fermanagh area have escaped prosecution by accepting a police caution, the same punishment handed out to jaywalkers and drunks.
The 59 offenders had charges of drugs possession withdrawn at court over the last three years, giving South Tyrone and Fermanagh the third highest total for any court area in Northern Ireland.
Across Northern Ireland, a total of 384 cautions have been handed out for drug possession in the last three years.
Belfast had the highest number of cautions at 384, while Derry had the lowest at just 27, giving concern that offenders might be facing a postcode lottery in terms of punishment.
PSNI Chief Inspector Mike Kirby said that a caution “is a formal reprimand by police, and although not a conviction, it remains ‘unspent’ on an adult’s criminal record for a period of five years”.
Mr Kirby added that the individual receiving the caution “must have made a clear and reliable admission of the offence and there must be a realistic prospect of conviction if the offender were to be prosecuted in line with the PPS (Public Prosecution Service) full evidential test”.
Cautions can be recommended for crimes that are comparatively less serious and involve offenders who have little or no previous offending history.
The figures were released by the Justice Department at the Northern Ireland Assembly after a question tabled by DUP MLA Maurice Morrow.
Almost 30 cases of cruelty to children, 977 common assaults, 19 burglaries and seven arson attacks were among the thousands of crimes dealt with by way of police caution at courts. Other crimes dealt with by way of caution include: possession of an offensive weapon in a public place.brothel keeping, indecent exposure, blackmail and kerb-crawling.