Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland parents need Sarah's Law to unmask sex offenders, says Lord Morrow

By Adrian Rutherford

Parents in Northern Ireland should have the right to know if a sex offender has contact with their children, it has been claimed.

A peer has vowed to fight for Sarah's Law - which has unmasked hundreds of paedophiles - to be introduced here.

The legislation was brought in after the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne in 2000.

It allows concerned parents or grandparents to find out if someone who has contact with a child has a history of child sex offending.

Although it came into force in England, Scotland and Wales in 2011, it was not introduced here.

DUP peer Lord Morrow said he will press for the legislation to be extended to Northern Ireland. The Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA has been investigating the issue of sex offenders in the community.

Last month, he discovered through Assembly questions that 1,232 offenders are being monitored in Northern Ireland.

Lord Morrow said he was deeply disturbed by the management of sex offenders. He said children were at greater danger because of the absence of Sarah's Law in Northern Ireland.

"The minister should give serious consideration to including Sarah's Law in the forthcoming Justice Bill," he said.

"Such legislation would place the safety of our children on a level par with their counterparts in England and Wales."

Sarah's Law was developed in consultation with Sara Payne, whose daughter Sarah was murdered by a convicted paedophile in West Sussex in 2000. Roy Whiting was sentenced to life imprisonment. He had previously abducted and sexually assaulted an eight-year-old girl and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Ms Payne campaigned in support of bringing in a scheme similar to Megan's Law in the US, which allows every parent in the country to know if dangerous offenders are living in their area.

The issue was highlighted recently after it emerged two paedophile brothers were living beside a school. James and Owen Roe McDermott, who a judge said inflicted a "tidal wave of abuse" on children, are in a house near Oakgrove Integrated College in Londonderry.

Lord Morrow said there was an "unacceptable risk" to children in Northern Ireland which must be addressed. "I have become very disturbed by the handling of sex offenders in the community and the apparent lack of regard for public safety.

"In the cases of sex offences against children, there have been a number of high-profile incidents of offenders being placed close to schools and areas densely populated by families with children. It is an unacceptable public risk which must be addressed," he added.

Lord Morrow said current arrangements - such as Sexual Offences Prevention Orders - offered little protection. "Therefore, if the community is deemed the correct place for sexual offenders to reside post-conviction, there must be robust safeguarding mechanisms enshrined in law to prevent further victims," he said.

Justice Minister David Ford said he had no plans to alter the system of disclosure: "Ongoing review has shown that the current administrative disclosure arrangements are working well.

"Disclosure of information to protect children already takes place and will continue under normal police operating practices.

"Parents and others who have immediate concerns about any individual whom they fear is posing a risk to the safety of a child should go to the police or social services at any time."

Factfile

Where sex offenders live

  • 396: Belfast
  • 144: Ards, Castlereagh and Down
  • 144: Antrim, Carrickfergus, Lisburn and Newtownabbey
  • 167: Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon and Newry
  • 113: Cookstown, Dungannon, Fermanagh and Omagh
  • 150: Derry city, Limavady, Magherafelt and Strabane
  • 118: Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Moyle

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