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Friday, 30 March, 2001, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Cracking down on paedophiles
Street demonstration
Portsmouth residents protest over paedophiles
Last summer people took to the streets protesting about the release into the community of dangerous paedophiles. On Friday just such a man, Andrew Wyer, was released by a judge in Portsmouth. BBC News Online's Peter Gould investigates the authorities' dilemma.

Public anxiety about the activities of paedophiles has put pressure on the government to do more to protect children from sex offenders.

Over the past four years a number of measures have been introduced to monitor potentially dangerous men in the community.

The Sex Offender Order, which was imposed on Andrew Wyer, gives courts the power to place restrictions on those no longer in prison but who are considered to pose a threat to the public.


Sex offender orders provide a new means to control potentially dangerous sex offenders in the community

Home Office, 1999

A sex offender can be ordered to stay away from schools, parks, playgrounds, and other places where children gather.

Although the legislation is part of the civil law, breaking such an order is a criminal offence, with a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Untreatable

Since breaking his order Wyer has been held in Broadmoor Hospital. He could not be detained any longer under the Mental Health Act, because doctors said his condition could not be treated.

The amount of time he had spent in custody meant that if the judge had imposed a prison sentence, he would have been released again within months. He will now spend the next two years on probation, in a secure unit.

A Sex Offender Order lasts for at least five years, and can be indefinite. While it is in force the offender is required to register his name and address with the police, so he can be monitored.

The Sex Offenders' Register requires all offenders convicted of serious sexual offences to provide such details to the police.

Anyone jailed for 30 months or more for a sexual offence will remain on the register for the rest of their life. For someone imprisoned for between six and 30 months, registration lasts for ten years.

Penalties

The penalty for failing to comply is a fine of up to 5,000, a jail term of up to six months, or both. So far, more than 97% of offenders required to register have done so.

But according to a Home Office report, some police forces have done little more than collect the names of sex offenders. They have not been actively using the register to visit offenders, investigate crimes and prevent further offences.

Sarah Payne
Sarah Payne: her murder began campaign

The report warned there was a danger the register could create "unrealistic expectations" on the part of the public.

Arguments about how much the public should be told about sex offenders living in their neighbourhood intensified after the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne.

There was controversy last summer when the News of the World decided to "name and shame" paedophiles. The campaign was halted after protests from the police and probation officers.

Vigilantes

The government has refused to allow parents direct access to the register, believing it could encourage vigilante attacks and drive offenders underground, possibly putting children at greater risk.

A review of the registration system is now underway, and the government says it is committed to increasing protection for the public, particularly children.

But Home Office minister Charles Clarke says there has to be a balance between protecting children and giving sex offenders a chance to mend their ways:

"We do not want to drive sex offenders underground where they could disappear from view and become more dangerous, instead of receiving the treatment they need."

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