Thousands of criminals including sex offenders, thieves and burglars are avoiding court punishment by saying sorry to their victims.

Since 2010 nearly 12,000 criminals in Sussex have been given community resolutions – informal police agreements where offenders apologise to their victims for their crimes.

The Argus can reveal more than 4,000 thieves and burglars, 28 sex offenders and 3,541 violent criminals have all been dealt with using community resolutions over the past four-and-a-half years.

Sussex Police said the number of out of court disposals – which includes community resolutions, cautions and fines – had dropped since 2011 as reported crime fell across the county.

Superintendent Julia Pope said: “There has been no change in force policy over their use and they remain a very valuable way of dealing with certain types of offences. We take a victim-led approach to dealing with offences to ensure that those who have suffered are listened to before any decision about punishment is taken.

“Out of court disposals aim to deal with low-risk, low-level and mostly first-time offenders outside of the court system in appropriate circumstances.

“They are not suitable for contested or more serious cases and would not normally be considered for those who offend repeatedly.”

More than 2,100 community resolutions were given for criminal damage and a further 603 for fraud and forgery. Figures also show one sex offender this year was punished with a fine.

National figures published last year show more than 33,000 community resolutions were used by police forces up and down the country in 2013 – including 2,747 from Sussex. Superintendent Pope said all cases considered for out of court disposals were judged on their merits and assessed by senior officers.