Hugh Orde plays down fears at extension of ‘Sarah’s Law’
The former PSNI Chief Constable has played down fears yesterday that the eztension of the ‘Sarah's Law’ sex offender early warning system eventually to all of England and Wales would drive paedophiles underground and encourage vigilante attacks.
The scheme, named after Sarah Payne (8), murdered by convicted sex offender Roy Whiting in 2000, is getting the go-ahead after a year-long trial in four areas.
Parents and guardians will get the formal right to ask police to look into the background of people with unsupervised access to their children.
Parents concerned about a new partner, or anyone else with regular contact with their child, will be able to request a police check into their background. If the person is found to be a convicted sex offender, the parent will be warned and given advice on safeguarding their children, with a warning not to tell anyone else.
Former PSNI chief Sir Hugh Orde, now president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, welcomed the national roll-out.
He said it was “realistic” to think people would keep information to themselves.
“People say people will go underground — frankly, people go underground anyway. With all the other parts of the police service working also in this area, I do think we have got a real hope of keeping people safer and keeping young people safer, which is very important,” said Sir Hugh.
Home Secretary Theresa May said it would be rolled out across England and Wales. It falls far short of demands from campaigners for the names of all sex offenders in an area to be published.
But charities, criminologists and civil liberties groups have warned that even this diluted version could backfire by fuelling malicious gossip and encouraging paedophiles to change identity and break off contact with police.
NSPCC spokeswoman Diana Sutton said: “The Government needs to tread cautiously in rolling out the scheme to more police forces. We remain concerned about the risk of vigilante action and sex offenders going underground. All new local schemes need close management and proper resourcing to avoid this.”
Academic research on its application in the trialled areas found no evidence of known paedophiles disappearing, but there were doubts whether it added much to the work already done to monitor offenders after their release.
There was also evidence of fathers registering concerns about their former partner's new boyfriend, possibly as a tactic to undermine a new relationship.
The Home Office said yesterday there were almost 600 inquiries to the four forces involved in the pilots, leading to 315 applications for information and 21 disclosures about registered child sex offenders. Another 43 led to action to protect youngsters, including referrals to children's social care.
The programme was widened at the weekend to seven police forces. The rest of England and Wales will be covered by spring.