London - Up to 40 rapists a year are being given no more than a police caution when they confess, it emerged on Monday, prompting outrage from women's groups.

Home Office figures show the number of cautions more than doubled between 1994 and 2004 to 40 from 19.

"It is pretty shocking that anyone is cautioned for rape," said Lisa Longstaff of the Women Against Rape (WAR) group.

"These figures give a lie to the government statement that they are taking rape seriously," she said.

She said 16 of the 40 given cautions were issued to people older than 21.

A police caution is a formal warning, given by a senior police officer, to a person who admits having committed a criminal offence.

According to the Home Office, "cautioning gives a range of less serious offenders a chance to reform without obtaining a criminal record".

The Home Office said the government was committed to bringing rapists before the courts and increasing rape conviction rates. - Reuters