Belfast Telegraph

Review call over missing offenders

An "urgent review" is needed into the way registered sex offenders are monitored after police revealed hundreds had gone missing across the UK, Labour has said.

New figures have shown 396 registered sex offenders were wanted because their whereabouts were unknown in February, including some who have been missing for more than a decade.

One convicted sex offender in Gloucestershire has been missing since the year 2000, another in Northumbria disappeared in May 2002, while Humberside Police said the whereabouts of one registered sex offender had been unknown since September 2004.

Labour's home affairs spokeswoman Diana Johnson said the public would find the figures "very worrying" and the Government needed to "up its game" on child protection.

"We need an urgent review of the way those on the sex offenders' register are monitored," she said.

"This is all the more pressing in light of changes David Cameron and Theresa May made to the child protection system in 2011 which has weakened the vetting and barring regime, making it harder to be sure sex offenders are not working with children.

"Since those changes, 10,000 fewer sex offenders have been added to the barred list, which would automatically stop them working with children and vulnerable adults.

"The Government needs to up its game on child protection and look again at the monitoring of sex offenders."

Registered sex offenders - including rapists and paedophiles - are required to inform police and probation officers of their addresses and are supposed to be monitored by officials working under multi-agency public protection arrangements (Mappa).

But in freedom of information responses to the Press Association, 39 forces revealed there were missing registered sex offenders in their areas.

They stressed the figures could change as arrests are made or new cases come to light.

Every force to respond to the Press Association refused to name those missing over concerns of vigilante attacks or because the information was exempt under data protection laws.

The Metropolitan Police, the UK's largest force, said 167 registered sex offenders were wanted in London alone, including one offender who had been missing for 14 years.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said London's "diverse multicultural population" meant a large percentage of sex offenders were "either known or believed to be living abroad, having returned to their country of origin".

Last month the force issued an appeal to trace convicted rapist Patrick Mosekwe Kanda who had been living in Dagenham, east London, but failed to report to authorities in February 2013 following his release from prison.

West Midlands Police said 39 registered sex offenders were missing, including one since 2006 and nine between 2010 and 2012.

Greater Manchester Police said 25 registered sex offenders were missing as of February 19, including one who disappeared in September 2005 and three others who went missing in 2006.

Essex and Sussex Police each said 11 registered sex offenders were missing in their force areas, while Cambridgeshire Police said 10 registered sex offenders were wanted because their whereabouts were unknown.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said three sex offenders were "currently wanted" but did not reveal when the offenders went missing.

The force said it refused to disclose the names of those missing as the information may be "valuable" for "criminal/ terrorist/ vigilante groups who may attempt an attack on them and/or their families".

Police Scotland said none of the 4,775 registered sex offenders in the country were "missing" as of February 16. However a force spokesman later revealed that nine registered sex offenders were "wanted", including eight who are abroad and another who is believed to be overseas.

"It's important to know that for the purpose of this response, the terms 'wanted' and 'missing' are not interchangeable," the spokesman said. "It's important to know that the registered sex offenders are wanted by virtue of their failure to appear at court or to comply with notification requirements. They are not wanted for committing further sex offences.

"Where their whereabouts are known, the potential for having them returned to the UK is routinely explored."

Sara Payne, whose daughter Sarah was abducted and killed in 2000 by convicted paedophile Roy Whiting, said: "It's completely unacceptable that any registered sex offenders have disappeared from authority management, putting the public at risk.

"It's time to take some serious proactive action to bring them back under the police radar ."

The NSPCC described the figures as "alarming" and said its own research had found there was just one police staff member responsible for every 50 registered sex offenders.

Jon Brown, th e charity's lead for tackling sexual abuse, said: "A bout half of those on the register are offenders who have raped or sexually assaulted children, or committed online child abuse image offences, however most just receive one police visit a year after they have been released from prison and a period of supervision.

"The monitoring of registered sex offenders in communities needs urgent attention by the Government to ensure it is fit for purpose."

The NSPCC said there were around 900 police officers and non-uniformed staff responsible for managing more than 46,000 registered sex offenders.

"It seems this area is currently chronically under resourced and the number of dangerous individuals on the register is increasing yearly," Mr Brown added.

Claude Knights, chief executive of the charity Kidscape, which aims to protect children from abuse, said: "I think it is surprising there are almost 400 registered sex offenders who are unaccounted for in the UK because we have systems which are supposed to prevent that.

"We know that sex offenders are at their most volatile and dangerous when they are living in chaotic and unsettled circumstances.

"Registered sex offenders who are of no fixed abode are very difficult to assess and monitor, and most importantly are not complying with notification requirements.

"The safety of our communities depends on predators being on the appropriate radars. We have a duty of care to potential victims."

Deputy Chief Constable Michelle Skeer, who is the national policing lead for the management of sex offenders, said: "Protecting the public from sexual and violent offenders is a key role for the police service.

"A large proportion of the recorded wanted or missing sex offenders are, following investigation, either known or believed to be living abroad or have returned to their country of origin.

"When registered sexual offenders are missing or wanted in the UK, all police forces are alerted. If they return to the UK, there are several processes in place to ensure that they are brought to the attention of police and arrested where appropriate."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The UK has some of the toughest powers in the world to deal with sex offenders and we are committed to ensuring the system is as robust as possible.

"It is for the police to manage offenders in their area, but we work closely with forces to ensure legislation is effective and that officers have all the tools they need."

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