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Friday, March 13, 1998 Published at 07:59 GMT


Fears over release of paedophiles

Police and the probation service are demanding a change in the law to help deal with six dangerous paedophiles, due for release from prison.

The men fall through loopholes in the law as they are considered so dangerous, they are denied parole - which would mean their release under supervision.

[ image: Police have no powers of supervision over the men]
Police have no powers of supervision over the men
Also, because they were jailed before the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, no powers exist to order supervision once they have served their terms.

Police chiefs are demanding changes to the law to allow such men to be held under the Mental Health Act.

That would enable them to be detained in a special hospital indefinitely.

[ image: Police struggled to cope with the release of Robert Oliver]
Police struggled to cope with the release of Robert Oliver
The warning comes as detectives revealed how they struggled to cope with the release last September of child killer Robert Oliver, one of a gang which abducted, raped and killed 14-year-old rent boy Jason Swift.

Oliver and his accomplices were initially charged with murder but convicted of manslaughter. They are suspected of at least two other paedophile murders.

Police mounted round-the-clock surveillance on Oliver after his release, observing him visit a children's library and watching youngsters in Brighton amusement arcades - lawful activities they were powerless to prevent.

As controversy surrounding his freedom grew, Oliver - judged to be a "sexual deviant with a personality disorder" - asked police for protection and spent four months living in a police station.

Struggle to find accommodation

Penny Buller interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme (2'35")
East Sussex chief probation officer, Penny Buller, says she spent four months trying to find somewhere to put Oliver after he asked for protection.

Finally, in February, a bed was found for him at a private medium-secure unit for mentally disordered offenders in Milton Keynes.

[ image: Police say dangerous gaps exist in the law]
Police say dangerous gaps exist in the law
The probation officer warned the episode would be repeated with other dangerous sex offenders.

The Home Office has said there are 150 more cases of sexual offenders facing release without supervision.

"They are not all as notorious and as dangerous as Robert Oliver, but about half-a-dozen of them are," said Penny Buller.

The six other paedophiles due for release over the next two years include Sidney Cooke, a member of Oliver's gang.

[ image: Convicted paedophile Sidney Cooke: due for release]
Convicted paedophile Sidney Cooke: due for release
He is due to leave prison next month after serving 11 years of a 19-year term.

The Chief Constable of Sussex, Paul Whitehouse, said there were dangerous gaps in the law.

"If you have a personality disorder, which to the layman appears to be no different to being mentally ill, then you can't be sectioned.

"If the Mental Health Act was altered to include people with a personality disorder then that could well be the solution."

Probation officers also want to see such loopholes closed, extra money put into treatment and supervision, and electronic tagging to make sure sex offenders obey curfews.

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