Law sees 700 paedophiles identified
More than 700 paedophiles have been unmasked using powers under Sarah's Law since it was rolled out nationwide.
Figures released to the Press Association show, on average, around five child sex offenders have been identified to worried parents and guardians every week since April 2011 when the scheme was launched across the country.
And police forces in England, Wales and Scotland have received 4,754 applications from anxious parents and guardians who want to know whether people who have contact with children pose a risk - meaning just one in seven result in a disclosure.
However, applications have fallen since the scheme was launched, from 1,944 in 2011/2012 to 1,106 so far in 2013/2014, while disclosures have also declined from 281 in the first year to 122 in current year to April.
Charities and campaigners have expressed concern that only one in seven applications result in a disclosure and raised questions over how well the scheme is being publicised in the face of waning numbers of applications.
However, other groups said the figures highlighted a "worrying shift of responsibility" away from the state and onto ordinary members of the public in dealing with sex offenders.
Donald Findlater, director of research and development at Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a charity which works with sexual abusers as well as victims, said: "Given the apparent drop in applications since the start of the scheme, albeit small, we have some concern that people may not know the scheme is available to them.
"We would like to see continued public awareness and publicity, whether by local forces or nationally by the Home Office, so that people know that this means of checking someone out exists."
Lucy Faithfull Foundation sat on the Home Office Project Board for the review which implemented the scheme and created the public education resource www.parentsprotect.co.uk to support it.
Mr Findlater added: "While the number of applications being made is small, at 4,754 over two and half years, the conversion rate of one in seven applications resulting in a disclosure is encouraging. It shows that adults can and do notice worrying behaviour in others around them - a key factor in keeping children safe.
"Our concern here would be the other six out of seven people who made an application but did not get a disclosure. The police know of only a proportion of offenders - many have not been caught and are not on any police database. For members of the public to make an application to police they must have had some concerns in the first place."
In England and Wales, Avon and Somerset Police have revealed the highest number of paedophiles at 42, followed by Devon and Cornwall with 39, Thames Valley with 36 and Norfolk with 33. A total of 49 identities have been released in Scotland.
The Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, known as Sarah's Law, was brought in following a campaign by Sara Payne, whose daughter Sarah was murdered by a convicted paedophile.
The scheme is a watered-down version of laws in the US under which details of where convicted paedophiles live are actively publicised.
Ms Payne, whose eight-year-old daughter was found in a field near Pulborough, West Sussex, after she was killed by convicted paedophile Roy Whiting in July 2000, led a high-profile campaign calling for a British equivalent.
Under the Home Office scheme, parents can ask police about anyone with access to their children and officers will reveal details confidentially if they think it is in the child's interests.
Christopher Stacey, d irector of services at reformed offenders charity Unlock, said: " It is important to strike the right balance between the need to protect the public, and enabling people who have served their sentence and rehabilitated themselves to move on positively with their lives.
"There already exists a detailed framework in place which is designed to enable the police, probation services and other agencies to share information with members of the public where there is a safeguarding concern.
"As a result, it is unclear what value this scheme is adding, with serious questions about the statistics being used to defend the effectiveness of the scheme."
Making reference to Clare's Law, a scheme rolled out nationwide last month which allows women to check police records to see if a partner has a violent past, Mr Stacey went on: " Both of these schemes represent a worrying shift of responsibility away from the state and onto ordinary members of the public.
"The schemes assume that evidence of a past conviction is a good proxy for future risk - and, conversely, that a clear record means there's no risk.
"Based on the number of applications, more than 4,000 requests for information came back blank, and one has to surely focus on why they have concerns in the first place, regardless of whether the individual has a past conviction or not."
Mr Stacey called for greater resources to be pumped into the rehabilitation of offenders.
Last year, doubts on the future effectiveness of the scheme were raised after a High Court ruling said sex offenders' human rights to privacy should be considered when dealing with applications.
In a judgment that lawyers said risked "watering down" what is known as Sarah's Law, the court ruled in October 2012 that offenders should be given a say before their presence is disclosed.
Jon Brown, NSPCC lead for tackling sexual abuse, said: " Sarah's Law is not a silver bullet to end child abuse and giving the public information about where sex offenders live is just one part of the jigsaw.
"It's vital sex offenders serve long prison sentences, and like parents, we of course believe prison is the best place for those who harm children.
"But all prisoners are released eventually so sex offenders must be thoroughly risk assessed and given therapy so they understand what they have done is wrong before they are released. And then they must be monitored closely by the authorities for a long time.
"Informing the public of their whereabouts has to be done properly, professionally and judged on a case by case basis. Forcing a child abuser underground because of a fear of vigilante attacks won't make children safer as the authorities will lose track of them.
"This is a delicate balancing act and one that must be constantly re-assessed. Ultimately, the route we must pursue must be guided by what we know keeps children safe, which is a coordinated approach including deterrence, treatment and advice and information to the public."
Figures provided are up to November this year.
:: All but three police forces in England, Wales and Scotland provided figures following a request made by the Press Association under Freedom of Information laws. Dorset Police provided number of applications but refused to provide number of disclosures as it would exceed the statutory cost limit. Greater Manchester and Hampshire police forces refused request on grounds it would exceed the statutory cost limit. Northamptonshire Police refused request on grounds that the information was not available in an easily retrievable format. Sarah's Law does not apply in the Police Service of Northern Ireland force area.
A total of 708 disclosures have been made across forces in England and Wales, and Scotland, since the scheme was launched.