SEXUAL abusers, gunmen and arsonists are among the most serious offenders in society.

But an investigation by The Bolton News, in collaboration with the BBC, has found offenders accused of these offences are slipping through the system with just a slap on the wrist.

So-called ‘community resolutions’, which which can include an apology or compensation to the victim instead of full prosecutions, are being used by police in thousands of cases in Greater Manchester.

Our investigation has found more than 34,000 criminals, including those accused of grooming, child sexual exploitation, possession of firearms and other serious offences, have all been dealt with using these controversial powers in the past five years across the region.

Unlike a caution or full prosecution, it means these criminals are not left with a criminal record.

A leading charity has hit out at the process, saying victims of serious offences are being “denied the justice they deserve” and left feeling that the system has let them down.

But, police say this system does not let offenders escape justice and can actually empower victims by “giving them a voice” in the process.

It involves the guilty party, police and victims making an informal agreement, often involving an apology or fixing damage caused - but the system is voluntary and unenforceable.

Victim Support, which helps people who have suffered at the hands of criminals, called the trend of using Community Resolutions in serious cases “seriously concerning”.

A spokesman for the charity said that using these resolutions to deal with violent or sexual offences could leave victims feeling that the “justice system does not work for them”.

“Community Resolutions can be effective for dealing with low level offences, as long as the views of the victims have been firmly taken into account,” the spokesman said.

“However, the fact that they are being used in cases where a serious offence has been committed, such as a sexual offence, is seriously concerning.

“It is wholly inappropriate to use them in these cases as it means that victims are denied the justice they deserve, and the public could be put at risk if violent and sexual offenders are not receiving a criminal record.”

In Greater Manchester since 2014 there have been two cases of sexual grooming and a further case of abuse through child exploitation which were solved out of court.

In addition, there were six people stopped for possessing a firearm with intent, 12 for arson which endangered life and more than 40 offenders stopped for aggravated vehicle theft who were all able to go through a community resolution and avoid prosecution.

GMP’s assistant chief constable Wasim Chaudhry defended the actions of officers and explained that these resolutions can be effective and can allow officers to enforce restorative justice in some cases.

He added: “Restorative justice is a proven process in the criminal justice system even when applied to some difficult and challenging crimes, and it’s important to stress that it can be immensely beneficial to victims.

“It can support them as they make sense of what has happened to them and try to move on with their lives

“It gives victims the chance to meet or communicate with their offenders to explain the real impact of the crime – it empowers victims by giving them a voice and provides them with the outcomes they need to recover.

“It also holds offenders to account for what they have done and helps them to take responsibility and make amends.”

He went on to say that officers only use this process when victims agree to it.

A GMP spokesman went on to add that a number of sexual offence cases involved school-aged children sharing inappropriate images. In these circumstances, they say this approach provides the opportunity to educate young people, prevent unnecessary criminalisation, and provide an opportunity for people to apologise for their actions and understand the damage that they have caused.

In 2015, use of community intervention declined rapidly after the government’s Home Affairs Committee published figures suggesting nearly a third of out of court resolutions were inappropriate to the crime.

Since that point, the use of these tactics by GMP officers has declined massively and last year just 2 percent of cases in the region were resolved out of court in this way. This is a similar record to comparably sized forces such as the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands Police.

However, concerns remain over the small number of serious cases which see potentially violent or dangerous criminals escape court.