Drug traffickers let off with a wrist slap

More than 80 people have been given cautions for trafficking controlled drugs, it emerged today.

Officers handed out warnings to 81 people across the county in just seven months last year.

County councillors made the figures public at a community scrutiny meeting, where it also emerged 16% of all crime in the county is dealt with out of court compared to just 9% nationally.

Senior officers today said the offences, which occurred between April and November last year, were likely to be low level and cautions would not been given to serious offenders importing kilos of drugs.

But worried councillors experessed concern about the figures – and insisted all drug traffickers should be brought before the courts.

County Coun Tony Winder, a member of LCC's communities overview and scrutiny panel, told the meeting: "Low-cost disposals are for low-risk, low-level first time offenders.

"Why are we issuing to 81 offenders cautions and fixed penalties?"

The concerns come after the Evening Post revealed last year how more than 11,000 criminals who had committed indictable offences were given cautions, warnings or fixed penalty notices in just over two years.

Lancashire's temporary Assistant Chief Cons Andy Rhodes said many of those cautioned had been picked up as part of the force's long-running Operation Nimrod crackdown on drug dealers.

He said: "We do sit well nationally on serious crime in terms of what we caution.

"I think for most serious offences, violent crime, something like 3.5% are out of court disposals whereas in some forces I looked at recently it was in the 30% category."

He said for some offences, such as cannabis possession, Lancashire Police issues fewer than 200 fixed peanlty notices whereas other forces issue "thousands".

He added: "These trafficking offences, for example when we do an Operation Nimrod, we will come across people who have done things, who have a serious drug problem themselves, who have had drugs given to them they then have to work off by selling drugs to other people.

"They will come in on Nimrod arrests because actually they are serving drugs to people.

"On occasion that might be they have handed a piece of cannabis to someone else and that is a trafficking offence.

"That is how low level a trafficking offence can go compared to imporatation of kilos of cocaine.

"I can guarantee that those 81 offences will not be high level drug dealers who have been given cautions."

But Coun Winder told the Evening Post: "I'm concerned because in my opinion, drug trafficking is a very, very serious offence. They should all be prosecuted."

Among the 11,000 criminals given cautions, conditional cautions, reprimands or written warnings between April 2007 and November 2009 were more than 50 sex offenders.

County Coun Sam Chapman, who also raised the issue in the meeting, said: "The answers don't go into the detail of what is behind some of these offences.

"If we were to know more of the detail, I'm sure we could have greater confidence in how the system is dealing with these people.

"Some of these offences are open to interpretation but some of them are not."

Insp John Clucas, of Lancashire police, said: "There is a higher proportion of offenders going to court in Lancashire than ever before and the number of convictions which are being obtained at court are also at their highest levels, all this at a time when crime is reducing.

"In relation to cautions, they are used in accordance with national guidance."

Operation Nimrod was launched in April 2002 to target street level drug dealers who were seen as a key driver of local crime.

In the eight years since it has seen more than 4,000 arrest warrants issued.