THREE quarters of the public believe that sentences handed down by judges and magistrates are too lenient, according to Home Office research published yesterday.

A total of 76 per cent of adults thought that sentences in the crown and magistrates? courts were too soft. Only 22 per cent believed that sentences were ?about right?, the figures from the British Crime Survey showed. But the figures, published a week after it was revealed that four men convicted of the murder of Mary-Ann Leneghan had been on probation at the time of the killing, also show that the public has little knowledge of actual sentencing practice.

Most people questioned for the survey underestimated the severity of jail terms. They estimated that 40 per cent of burglars aged over 21 had been sent to prison when the actual figure is 63 per cent. The public also estimated that only 58 per cent of convicted rapists were sent to prison when the actual figure is 98 per cent.

The study was published as the Home Office issued figures that showed the use of antisocial behaviour orders, used to tackle yobbish behaviour, has stalled. The number of orders issued between July and September last year fell to 816 compared with 948 in the previous quarter. Overall the number of Asbos, a key measure in the Government?s drive to tackle yobbish behaviour on the streets, has soared to 7,356.

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