Parents to be given powers to access information on paedophiles

20 FEB 2008

The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has announced that four Police forces to pilot a new approach in dealing with child sex offences.

The initiative, outlined as part of the Government's Tackling Violence Action Plan, proposes to protect children from predatory paedophiles who deliberately ingratiate themselves into families.

Cambridgeshire, Cleveland, Hampshire and Warwickshire will pilot the scheme, starting in the summer, which will allow parents or guardians of children under 18 to be told if someone they are having a personal relationship with has previous convictions for child sex offences.

Ms Smith announced the proposals to The News of the World newspaper which has been running a campaign for "Sarah's law" styled on the US "Megan's Law" which allows parents to obtain details of convicted paedophiles living in their neighbourhoods.

The system will ensure that parents and carers will only be informed of anyone's offending history where a child is at risk. The police and probation services will have the discretion to consider each case on its own merits and disclosure will be carefully controlled in all cases.

This new scheme is not about allowing parents to automatically find out when a paedophile moves to or lives in the local area. This could encourage paedophiles to go missing and therefore put children at greater risk.

Chief Constable Keith Bristow of Warwickshire police said:

"As a force we applied to take part in this trial to safeguard children in our county and to protect them from predatory paedophiles."

"We can never eliminate the risks posed by dangerous offenders, but we can reduce the risk and protect our communities. As a society we have to face up to the fact that there are dangerous offenders in all our communities and manage the risks they pose."

But Liberal Democrat Shadow Justice Secretary David Heath expressed his concern over the scheme:

"Very serious doubts remain about how these arrangements will work in practice."

"Everyone wants to see the strongest possible protection for children against sex offenders."

"However, experts have serious concerns that even this limited duty to provide information will reduce the effectiveness of existing monitoring arrangements, and could result in police and probation services losing touch with potentially dangerous offenders."

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