A FIFE MSP has accused the Scottish Government of "letting criminals off the hook" by writing off unpaid community work.

Murdo Fraser said the decision to effectively excuse offenders from completing their sentences, taken due to the impact of COVID, was a "slap in the face" for victims.

A Freedom of Information request by the Scottish Conservatives revealed that 21,492 hours of unpaid community work was written off in Fife, the second-highest figure in Scotland after Glasgow.

Mr Fraser, who represents Mid Scotland and Fife, said: “The amount of Community Payback Orders cut by the SNP in Fife is absolutely staggering.

“They’ve let criminals off the hook by writing off these sentences. That is a total slap in the face to victims of crime across Fife.

“SNP ministers need to ensure these community sentences are taken seriously and fulfilled.”

Offenders who are convicted in court may receive a community sentence as an alternative to prison, and one option is community payback.

A sheriff would order a number of hours of unpaid work, such as picking up litter or removing graffiti, to be carried out in the local community.

In January, the Scottish Government announced they would use 'extraordinary powers' to write off a huge number of hours handed out in Community Payback Orders.

The Tories said that, across Scotland, 262,153 unpaid hours of work given to criminals were scrapped.

The MSP added: “It is the latest example of the SNP letting down victims.

"The Scottish Conservatives will continue to push for a Victims Law to be introduced to put victims first and end the SNP’s soft-touch justice system, by ensuring criminals receive appropriately tough sentences.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson responded: "The justice system holds those who commit offences to account and community-based sentences have helped contribute to record low reconviction rates in recent years.

"The pandemic has been an unprecedented public health challenge. This was recognised by parliament when last year it approved legislation to allow community orders to be varied where necessary, as well as regulations earlier this year to reduce unpaid work hours.

"This is to address the unavoidable build-up of unpaid work resulting from essential public health restrictions and the rationale for the regulations was clearly set out at the time.

"Orders imposed for domestic abuse, sexual offending and stalking were excluded.

"Our justice system has continued to operate effectively despite the challenges of the pandemic and those on community orders will still serve the majority of their sentences.”