CRIMINALS are escaping conviction and receiving fines instead in increasing numbers.

Threatening behaviour, theft, being drunk and disorderly in public and damaging property are just some of the offences for which fixed penalty notices for disorder can be issued instead of a court summons.

Fixed Penalty Notices are most commonly handed out for motoring offences including parking tickets and speeding, but more and more offenders commiting crimes with victims are now able to buy themselves out of the traditional route of justice – a court appearance and a criminal record.

The number of crimes of disorder in Chester being dealt with by a fixed penalty notice – for which payment of between £50 and £80 often ends proceedings – has risen annually for the past four years.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that between April 2007 and March 2008, 384 fixed penalty notices for disorder were issued in Chester while 233 were handed out in the system’s first year.

That figure climbed to 289 in the following April 2005-March 2006 period and the trend continued into April 2006 to March 2007, when 315 were given to offenders.

The figures are likely to be much higher since they only include instances where the issuing officer has noted down ‘Chester’ and not where they have simply written a district of the city or road.

Recipients of FPNs have 14 days to pay the penalty or request a hearing and failure to pay a penalty may result in a higher fine imposed by the court or imprisonment.

They can be issued by the police and, in a limited capacity, by community support officers and council officers.