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The BBC's Jane Hughes
"It would mean many more names being added to the sex offenders' register"
 real 56k

Monday, 30 July, 2001, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Sex offender loophole targeted
Children in playground
The register holds details of about 15,000 offenders
The government has unveiled proposals to close a legal loophole in the sex offenders' register that results in thousands of abusers being left off.

Currently only people convicted of specific sexual offences such as rape and indecent assault appear on the list.


If they still pose a serious risk, offenders should not be released from prison

NSPCC spokeswoman
But killers who are sexually motivated are not included because, for example, murder is not classified as a sex offence.

Under the government's plans people convicted of murder, kidnapping, false imprisonment or malicious wounding will be registered if a sexual motive for the crime is part of the court case against them.

Burglary with intent to rape is another crime that would require automatic registration under the plans.

Dangerous

Home Office minister Beverley Hughes published a consultation document on Monday as the row over Channel 4 satire programme Brass Eye again put the paedophile issue into the spotlight.

If the proposals are accepted, thousands more names will be added to the register each year.

Beverley Hughes, Home Office Minister
Hughes: Plans would help protect the public

Ms Hughes said: "This is a very important review.

"Its proposals would serve to enhance greatly the operation and effectiveness of the sex offenders' register and contribute to the protection of the public from dangerous offenders."

The Home Office has already consulted with a range of professional bodies but Ms Hughes said she wanted the public and practitioners to give their views on the plans.

The sex offenders' register is designed to help the police keep track of potentially dangerous released offenders.

It currently holds details of about 15,000 offenders, with some 4,000 names added each year.

In a further tightening of the rules, people on the register would be required to visit a police station once a year to confirm their current address.

'Vigilantism'

Another change would see British nationals who commit sex offences abroad liable for registration.

Home Secretary David Blunkett is keen to reassure the public that released offenders are being kept under supervision and to head off demands for the widespread publication of names and addresses.

Sarah Payne
Sarah Payne's death sparked calls for change
A campaign for the register to be open to the public - as happens in America under Megan's Law - followed the killing of schoolgirl Sarah Payne.

When he became Home Secretary last month, Mr Blunkett said he would look at the possibility of controlled access to the register.

But ministers fear widespread access to the details of released offenders would fuel vigilantism and spark serious public disorder.

Charity's welcome

Child protection charity the NSPCC says giving full public access to the register could mean fewer sex offenders comply with it.

A spokeswoman told BBC News Online the current 97% compliance rate was excellent but could plummet if released offenders feared vigilante action.

The NSPCC welcomed the consultation paper, particularly efforts to bring crimes like child murder within the scope of the sex offenders' register and the extension to those offending abroad.

But it called for indeterminate sentences for sex offenders, who would only be released from prison after a professional risk assessment.

"If they still pose a serious risk to children, they should not be released," said the spokeswoman.

The charity also wants a public education campaign about paedophilia and priority legislation to correct anomalies in the sex offences laws.

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