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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 June 2006, 18:36 GMT 19:36 UK
Minister examines 'Megan's Law'
John Reid
John Reid will look at the American way of dealing with offenders
A government minister is being sent to the US to examine the Megan's Law system, which deals with sex offenders.

Gerry Sutcliffe is being dispatched by home secretary John Reid, to see how the law works and whether a British version could be introduced.

Under the US system, parents must be informed when offenders move to their area after being freed from prison.

Mr Reid has also decided that paedophiles are to be moved out of probation hostels next to schools.

This decision comes after a newspaper found 60 had been housed, with government approval, at sites near schools.

Mr Reid also hinted he would consider calls for parents to get more information about sex offenders in their area.

In a statement, Mr Reid said his "starting point" was "that information should no longer remain the exclusive preserve of officialdom".

Newspaper campaign

"I'm sending my minister to America to discover the best way of ensuring the controlled release of information to the public," he said.

The News of the World newspaper, which uncovered the hostel details, has led the campaign for a UK version of Megan's law - what it calls Sarah's law - since the murder of eight-year-old schoolgirl Sarah Payne in 2000.

I have instructed that no child sex offenders reside in accommodation directly adjacent to schools
John Reid

Her mother, Sara Payne, said: "After six years of campaigning this is a tremendous breakthrough. I'm delighted."

As part of the US system a number of states list offenders' details on the internet, allowing parents to enter their zip code (post code) or a name, to check if anyone on the register has moved in nearby.

There are about 100 probation hostels in England and Wales where ex-offenders live after their release from prison.

Sarah Payne, murdered by a known paedophile.
Campaigners want a UK version of Megan's Law, called Sarah's Law
They have increasingly been used for high-risk offenders so they can be monitored and supervised more effectively.

However, in March it was revealed that a number of paedophiles were living in hostels close to schools.

The home secretary has now decided this must stop and has instructed the National Offender Management Service to implement "restricted admission" at 11 such hostels.

"I have instructed that no child sex offenders reside in accommodation directly adjacent to schools," Mr Reid said.

'Public confidence'

Mr Sutcliffe told the BBC he would be closely examining the way the law works in the US.

"The balance that we've got to strike is make sure that we look after the public but at the same time, you know, manage these offenders and that's the balance that we're trying to strike.

"But we felt that these premises which were adjacent to schools were too high a risk with child sex offenders in there."

Shadow home secretary David Davis
David Davis has urged caution with the handling of paedophiles

Shadow home secretary David Davis told Andrew Marr on the BBC's Sunday AM programme that ministers should adopt a very careful approach.

"You've got to be very careful in this. Obviously we have to protect the rights and the safety of children - that's paramount," he said.

"But we must almost make sure we don't end up with some lynch mob law. And bear in mind we've had the Criminal Records Bureau failures, with innocent people being given apparent criminal records."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: "Of course every measure should be taken to protect children from paedophiles, but this should never topple into vigilantism.

"John Reid is proving very adept at capturing headlines, whilst ignoring the difficult decisions that must be taken to provide the most appropriate protection for the public."

'Public safety risk'

The former home secretary, Jack Straw, also urged caution and said lessons learned from other countries were "not necessarily immediately translatable into this country.

John Reid's announcement today is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to ensure public protection
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis

Public sector union Unison welcomed Mr Reid's decision but warned of the dangers of relying too much on agency staff.

General secretary Dave Prentis said: "Working with these offenders is a tough job. Public safety will be put at risk if you don't have enough experienced and highly-trained staff to deal with the residents."

The 11 hostels where child sex offenders will not be allowed to stay are: Haworth House, Blackburn; Norfolk Park Hostel, Sheffield; Kirk Lodge, Leicester; St Johns, Leeds; Bunbury House, Ellesmere Port; Elliot House, Birmingham; Camden House, London; McIntyre House, Nuneaton; Wordsworth House, Lincoln; Staitheford House, Stafford; and Luton House, Luton.

Sara Payne, mother of Sarah Payne, speaking to the BBC

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