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Thursday, July 29, 1999 Published at 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK


Legal clampdown on paedophiles

A wave of legislation has been introduced to combat child abuse

Concern about paedophiles has prompted a wave of legislation in England and Wales in recent years.

BBC News Online looks at the most prominent changes.

The Sex Offenders Act 1997

The Sex Offenders Act was prompted by public concern about increasing reports of paedophile activity.

The Act created a Sex Offenders Register, introduced on 1 September 1997.

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It lists all people convicted of acts "of a sexual nature involving an abuse of power, where the victim is unable to give informed or true consent".

It therefore covers a range of offences, including rape, incest, child abuse and indecent assault.

The Act requires offenders to register with police and notify them of any changes in their name and address.

Those who do not register are subject to imprisonment and/or a £5,000 fine.

People stay on the register for differing times, depending on the nature of their conviction.

For example, people given a non-custodial sentence or caution will stay on the list for five years, whereas those given sentences of 30 months or over stay on indefinitely.

The Act also allows UK courts to prosecute people who commit sex crimes abroad.

However, these do not qualify for inclusion on the Sex Offenders Register and concerns have been expressed that paedophiles are using the loophole to infiltrate children's charities working abroad.

Crime Sentence Act 1997

This came into effect in October 1997 and allows for sex offenders who are convicted of a second serious sex offence to be automatically given a life sentence.

Crime and Disorder Act 1998

This gives police extra powers against sex offenders, allowing them to apply for a Sex Offenders Order for any offender who can reasonably be deemed a public risk.

This is based on reports from social workers, housing workers or probation officers.

It means courts can impose conditions on offenders, such as banning them from places where children are likely to congregate, such as parks and schools.

Another clause in the Act allows courts to impose extended periods of supervision on high-risk sex offenders, following release from prison.

Extended sentences can be imposed for a minimum period of five years and a maximum of 10 years, according to the results of a risk assessment by experts.

Other action

Within the next two to three years, the government is expected to introduce a "one-stop shop" for information on child abusers.

The Criminal Records Bureau will bring together information from police, social services and education which now has to be checked separately.

For £10 per check, children's agencies will be able to find out if prospective employees have a police record or have been suspended, cautioned or sacked because of concerns about abuse.

Until now, voluntary organisations have not had access to social services and education information.

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However, some fear that the new checks may be too expensive for small groups.

Children's organisations also warn that this is not enough to prevent abuse.

They warn that hardened paedophiles often move jobs before a formal investigation is launched against them.

Paul Nolan, child protection development manager at Save the Children Fund (SCF), said most paedophiles did not have a criminal record.

He said checks could be dangerous if organisations became too smug about them, thinking they were enough to prevent abuse.

He said: "Although checks are important, they can encourage complacency.

"What is important is developing a culture where staff are aware of child abuse, how to prevent it happening and how to report it."

Children's organisations are also calling for more action to be taken to intervene at an early age to prevent the creation of future paedophiles.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) wants the government to fund a national network of treatment centres for child sex offenders.

It believes many abusers have themselves been abused.

It argues that intervention at an early age, for example, bringing them face to face with the consequences of their acts, could protect public safety.

The government has recently published a consultation paper on severe personality disorder, which covers people, including paedophiles, whose view of society becomes so twisted that they are deemed psychopathic.

One option proposed is that courts should be given powers to lock up psychopaths indefinitely, if they are deemed a risk to society.

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