Belfast Telegraph

Shock at level of sex offenders who flout restrictions

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

A sex offender is accused of breaching the terms of court orders more than 30 times by trying to make contact with children.

There are currently 54 reported breaches of Sexual Offences Prevention Orders across Northern Ireland, which are being dealt with by courts here.

A member of Stormont's justice committee said he was stunned by the number of people accused of flouting the law, and called for an urgent review of how sex offenders were monitored.

One Co Antrim man is accused of being responsible for 31 of the breaches, including attempting to contact a young person under the age of 16 and entering a park used by children.

He is currently in custody in Maghaberry Prison.

Sexual Offences Prevention Orders (SOPOs) are applied by courts if somebody is suspected of posing serious harm to the public following conviction for sex crimes.

Tom Elliott, an Ulster Unionist MLA, called for a rethink on how sex offenders are monitored in public.

"How often will this be allowed to take place?" he said. "I'm amazed by this. It must be clamped down on.

"The volume of reported breaches calls into question the process as a whole. It's shocking."

The figures released by Justice Minister David Ford show the number of alleged breaches in each court division in Northern Ireland.

There are seven reported breaches in total by four people in Belfast. In Londonderry, one person is accused of breaching an order imposed on them six times.

In Ards and Craigavon, two people are said to have breached their orders, each on one occasion.

There was one reported breach in Armagh. In Fermanagh and Tyrone, three people face court action in regard to four breaches.

The orders prevent those subject to them from doing certain activities or from particular places. Many ban contact with children.

The legislation can also bar offenders from using mobile phones or computers, or travelling in cars.

Breaches of the orders can result in fines and a prison sentence of five years.

DUP peer Lord Morrow previously called into question the effectiveness of SOPOs.

"Monitoring agencies and designated risk managers should be doing more to ensure adequate supervision of those under a SOPO, and it would appear these orders are not acting as an appropriate deterrent," he said.

"The issue here is the protection of the public, but that appears to fall a sorry second place to the rights of the perpetrator."

BACKGROUND

Sexual Offences Prevention Orders prevent those subject to them from doing certain activities or from particular places. Many ban contact with children. The legislation can also bar offenders from using mobile phones or computers, or travelling in cars. Breaches of the orders can result in fines and a prison sentence of five years.

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