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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
The unspoken danger

Two years on from the "Name and Shame a Paedophile" row, are the UK's children any safer? The biggest danger to them may come from an unexpected quarter.
Steamy summers tend to bring out the violent or intolerant side to people.

Last year, it was riots in northern England.

Sarah Payne
Sarah Payne: Killed by Roy Whiting, who was later jailed for life
The year before, the nation was transfixed by the sight of mothers and children on the Paulsgrove estate in Portsmouth waving placards saying "Kill the paedophiles".

A week or so of nightly outbursts followed the murder of eight-year old Sarah Payne and the News of the World's campaign to name-and-shame convicted paedophiles on the Sex Offender Register.

Since time lends perspective to the most turbulent and confusing of events, it is worth examining whether the protection of children has been improved since the furore of the summer of 2000.

New protection

The acronym, MAPPA, probably doesn't mean anything to more than one person in a hundred.

Naming and Shaming campaign
• In 2000, News of the World starts naming people on sex offenders register. 100 people identified
• Campaign suspended after people wrongly attacked, including a paediatrician
• In late 2001, a limited naming and shaming campaign restarts

It stands for Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements and it is the statutory framework under which the police and probation service manage the risk to the community posed by violent and sexual offenders in England and Wales.

Despite the media's apparent obsession with paedophiles, the first annual MAPPA report was virtually ignored when it was published on 22 July. But it reveals a far more pro-active approach to passing on information about paedophiles than applied two years ago.

Here are two examples.

1) Duncan
Duncan came out of prison after serving 28 months for assaults on young children. He was monitored after release and it emerged that he had begun to referee football matches in the local boys' league.

Using its powers, the MAPPA board which was responsible for his case informed the Football Association and applied, successfully, for a sex offender order which banned Duncan from refereeing.

2) Alistair
Alistair had one conviction for a sex offence and was involved in an internet marketing scheme. He was active in fundraising and worked occasionally at a school on a story-writing project.

When his name was linked to a criminal investigation into the trading of child abuse imagery on the internet, the MAPPA board decided to inform the Charity Commission and the school. He was also visited and spoken to by the police.

The News of the World would argue that, even though the government has agreed to members of the public sitting on the bodies which oversee the MAPPA boards, selective passing on of information still leaves the community vulnerable to the Roy Whitings of this world (Whiting was convicted of the murder of Sarah Payne).

Rebecca Wade
News of the World editor Rebecca Wade
But this argument is a continuation of the emotional spasm which spawned the Paulsgrove vigilantism rather than an analysis based on logic.

Stranger danger?

After all, the number of so-called "stranger" killings of children in England and Wales has remained stable for about 30 years and the Payne family was let down by the courts rather than by police or probation officers.

Moreover, it is a dangerous argument - dangerous because it skews the public debate away from the area of greatest risk to children, which has always been the home and those relationships forged in innocence, with baby-sitters, teachers, sports coaches and so on.

Paulsgrove protests
Children joined in the protests on the Paulsgrove estate
But public policy on sex offending is fixated on the criminal justice system and pays far too little attention to the vast number of people who abuse children without ever appearing in any set of criminal statistics.

According to a Department of Health snapshot study, published in February 2000, more than 100,000 children in England and Wales were receiving care services because of abuse or neglect.

Since most of their abusers will never be charged, let alone convicted of any offence and appear on a register, what is happening to them?

And is it, in any way, commensurate with the scale of one of the most important social problems facing us ?

See also:

30 Jul 02 | England
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