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Sarah's Law Reveals 700 Child Sex Offenders
Five UK paedophiles a week have been identified since the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme was launched in 2011, figures show. More than 700 sex offenders have been unmasked using powers under Sarah's Law since it was rolled out nationwide in April 2011.
New figures - released by police forces in England, Wales and Scotland under the Freedom of Information Act - show on average about five child sex offenders have been revealed every week since the scheme was launched.
Avon and Somerset Police uncovered the most paedophiles, with 42 separate individuals being identified, followed closely by Devon and Cornwall Police which disclosed 39 offenders.
The figures also show police forces received 4,754 applications from parents and guardians wanting 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.
"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
The Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, known as Sarah's Law, was brought in following a campaign by Sara Payne, whose eight-year-old daughter Sarah was murdered by convicted paedophile Roy Whiting in 2000.
The scheme is a watered-down version of laws in the US under which details of where convicted paedophiles live are actively publicised.
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.
1. The scheme was introduced following the murder of schoolgirl Sarah Payne
2. Sara Payne led the campaign for the law to be implemented
3. Sarah Payne's killer Roy Whiting was a known paedophile
Source: Sky News, UK
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What is the child sex offender disclosure scheme?
The sex offender disclosure scheme in England and Wales also sometimes known as “Sarah’s Law”), allows anyone to formally ask the police if someone with access to a child has a record for child sexual offences. Police will reveal details confidentially to the person most able to protect the child (usually parents, carers or guardians) if they think it is in the child’s interests.
The scheme is available across all 43 police forces in England and Wales.
Scotland run a similar nationwide scheme called Keeeeping children save which allows parents, carers and guardians of children under 18 years old to ask the police if someone who has contact with their child has a record for sexual offences against children, or other offences that could put that child at risk.
No such scheme is formally available in Northern Ireland. However, information on sex offenders can be, and is, shared in a controlled way by the police where necessary for the purposes of child protection or risk management.
Why was the scheme developed?
In 2000, Sarah Payne, an 8 year old girl, was abducted and murdered by Roy Whiting who had previously been convicted of abducting and indecently assaulting a young girl.
Following Sarah's death, the News of the World, supported by Sarah's parents, launched a campaign calling for the introduction of "Sarah's Law", a UK version of what is known as “Megan's Law” in the United States.
“Megan’s Law” requires the police to make information about local sex offenders available to the public. As part of the campaign, the names, photographs and general locations of a number of alleged child sex offenders were published in the newspaper, which led to a spate of vigilante attacks, in some cases on the wrong people.
Government review and legislation
The UK government was not initially in favour of a public disclosure scheme, describing it as “unworkable” (BBC News, 2001).
In 2006 the Home Office investigated the operation of Megan's Law in the US, and commissioned a review (Home Office, 2007) into protecting children from sex offenders.
The Review of the protection of children from sex offenders set out a list of actions including:
- Action 3: there should be a legal duty on authorities to consider the disclosure of information about convicted child sex offenders if they consider that the offender presents a risk of serious harm to a member of the public's children; and
- Action 4: a process should be piloted whereby members of the public can register their child protection interest in a named individual, and if this person has convictions for child sex offences and is considered a risk, this information will be disclosed to the relevant member of the public (Home Office, 2007, p11).
Action 3 was implemented in part 11, section 140 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 which inserted a new section, 327A and B, into the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
The new requirements meant that Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) authorities (police, local probation board and prisons minister) must consider whether to disclose information about the previous convictions or cautions of any offender managed by it to any particular members of the public.
Action 4 was implemented in September 2008 when the Child sex offender disclosure scheme was piloted.