SEX criminals in Wiltshire have been let off with just a caution, new figures obtained by the Adver have revealed.

A Freedom of Information request has shown that in the last year Wiltshire Police have handed out 11 cautions for serious sexual offences, with five occurring in Swindon.

From September 2012 to this September, cautions have been given out for offences including abuse of position of trust of a sexual nature; causing or inciting a child under 16 to engage in sexual activity; exposure and voyeurism; incest or familial sexual offences; sexual activity involving a child under 16; sexual assault on a female aged 13 and over and sexual assault on a child under 13.

In total, in the same period, 565 sexual offences were reported to police, resulting in 140 people being charged – 53 in Swindon.

A police caution is widely seen as little more than a slap on the wrist as they are not criminal convictions. They are given to anyone over the age of 10, normally for minor crimes such as graffiti. But police say the caution is appropriate given the circumstances surrounding each individual crime.

Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Carr, of the Wiltshire Police Public Protection Unit, said: “Although at first glance, these figures and the offences they relate to may appear worrying, there is a relevant context to each case.

“A caution may be deemed an appropriate disposal to a sexual offence for several reasons, however we cannot discuss individual cases. Wiltshire Police clearly operate within the law and only issue a caution when it is appropriate and proportionate to do so.”

Police and Crime Commiss-ioner Angus Macpherson said: “Charging decisions are for police and the Crown Prosecution Service, not for elected representatives like me.

“However, my role is to ensure the system is working properly and that is what I am doing. I have met the magistrates to establish a review mechanism to make sure all cases are handled properly.

“I will shortly be publicising how we review cases to ensure that all appropriate cases go through the court process, and that, where cases do not, the way they are resolved is not an inappropriate or soft option.”

It is believed some cautions are handed out because the perpetrator is a child.

Children’s charity, the NSPCC, have said while all cases must be treated extremely seriously, there are times when a caution, along with other sanctions maybe the right course of action.

Sharon Copsey, regional head of service for the South West said: “An alarming number of child sexual offences are committed by people under the age of 18 every year and while more research needs to be done on this problem, we know technology and easy access to sexual material is warping young people’s views of what is normal or acceptable behaviour.”

“Young people as much as adults need to know that sexual abuse is never acceptable.

“But while giving a caution to an adult offender simply isn’t appropriate, the way in which young people are dealt with in such cases should be balanced with the need for a thorough assessment and, where appropriate, treatment so that their offending behaviour stops.”