ANOTHER WHITE FLAG IN THE WAR ON CRIME; Relatives and Police Despair as Violent Robber Escapes Charges over OAP's Death

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THEY were a frail, defenceless couple trussed up in their own home and left to die.

It took four days before Elizabeth and Harold Snook were rescued and they never recovered from their ordeal.

Elizabeth, 87, died in hospital and

her 83-year-old husband is a broken man. The one consolation for their grieving family was that the thug responsible, caught by police and brought to court, would be made to pay for destroying their lives.

But yesterday they learned he will not stand trial for attempted murder. A plea bargain, accepted by prosecutors, meant that instead he admitted only robbery and an assault charge ? guaranteeing him a more lenient sentence.

With a supreme irony, this latest capitulation of the justice system came on the day new figures showed violent crime in Scotland is rocketing with an explosion in serious assaults

and sex attacks and a dramatic rise in drug-related offences. The number of crimes involving guns and knives also soared last year despite high-profile publicity campaigns warning of hard sentences for carrying weapons.

Police warned their efforts to jail criminals were undermined by the criminal justice system that all too often favoured criminals over the rights of victims.

One detective said: 'If tying up an elderly couple, leaving them without food and water for days and making no attempt whatsoever to alert others to their plight, is not attempted murder, I don't know what is.

'We are stunned the Crown has chosen not to pursue the attempted murder charge. I can't understand their logic.' Mrs Snook's stepson, John, spoke of his anger, saying: 'Betty's death was a direct result of her ordeal. She would not have died and would still be around if this had not happened. This man will be a menace to society for the rest of his life'.

Police found the couple, dehydrated and starving, at their home in the Newington area of Edinburgh on November 2 last year. Mrs Snook died in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in February.

Last night Norrie Flowers, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, said of the reduced charges: 'Unfortunately, this is a situation that occurs time and again.

'When you see a serious charge reduced to a lesser one, it causes a lot of upset for families and the investigating officers.

'We are powerless to argue because the fiscal has the final say on what should happen. It is frustrating but, sadly, it is a reality of day-today policing.' The crime figures released yesterday by the Scottish Executive paint a bleak picture of the scale of violent crime, with a 5 per cent rise in serious assaults.

The category includes murders, attempted murders and causing death by dangerous driving.

Cases of rape rose by 4 per cent, with 753 cases recorded last year compared with 705 in 2000, while cases of attempted rape rose by 7 per cent to 1,154.

Police dealt with 8,671 cases of handling offensive weapons ? 5 per cent more than last year ? while drug-related crimes soared by 15 per cent.

The rise in violent crime came despite record investment in justice, with ? …