Belfast Telegraph

Sarah's Law ruled out by Ford over fears it could lead to vigilante attacks

By Adrian Rutherford

Intoducing anti-paedophile powers in Northern Ireland could lead to vigilante-style attacks, the Justice Minister has warned.

David Ford was outlining his concerns over Sarah's Law being extended here.

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

It allows parents or grandparents to know if a sex offender has contact with their children.

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

DUP peer Lord Morrow wants that loophole closed, but Mr Ford has said he has no plans to alter the system of disclosure.

He said the safety of sex offenders could be at risk from people taking the law into their own hands.

"The PSNI has made the department aware that there could be potential difficulties in making changes to the current system of disclosure, including problems arising through loss of control of such information," he said.

"As well as possible risk to the safety of individual offenders, there may be an increased risk of attacks on other individuals as a result of misinformation, and, of more general importance, a decrease in the overall effectiveness of the agencies' efforts to maximise public protection, as offenders go to ground and fail to comply with arrangements to manage the risk they pose."

Mr Ford's concerns were set out in a response to an Assembly question from Lord Morrow. However, the Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA said he was not satisfied with the answer.

"I don't see how it can be applied in other regions of the United Kingdom and yet the Justice Minister says there will be difficulties here in Northern Ireland," he said. "He has not been explicit enough in outlining why he comes to this conclusion."

Lord Morrow said there was no reason why Sarah's Law couldn't work effectively in Northern Ireland. "I think the minister has to be much clearer on his concerns," he added.

Sarah's Law was developed in consultation with Sara Payne, whose daughter Sarah was murdered by convicted paedophile Roy Whiting in West Sussex in 2000. He had previously abducted and sexually assaulted an eight-year-old girl. Mrs Payne campaigned for a scheme which allows parents to know if dangerous offenders are living in their area.

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