Since April 2011 more than 1,000 offences have been dealt with across the county in this way compared with 127 in 2010.

Mr Parr told the News: “Sometimes the victim says they don’t want anything to happen to the offender. Sometimes they just say they want them to know how it has made them feel and don’t want them to make the same mistake again.

“They actually care about the offender – not all of them – but there are many victims that say they just want them to know ‘what it felt like for me’.”

Those to be punished in this way include a 20-year-old first year Cambridge University student who smashed a laboratory window in Downing Street in June.

Because he had no previous convictions and was “remorseful”, officers allowed him to avoid a criminal record and instead he wrote a letter of apology and paid £300 for the damage.

....Mr Parr added: “It’s quick. It can be done the same day or the next day and you can bring them together to deal with it. Going the other route can take a long time and can be a bit impersonal and a bit invisible in court instead of being just done and dusted.”

The scheme can be used for vandalism causing damage under £500, hoax 999 calls, forgery, minor public order offences and careless driving.

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