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Monday, 24 July, 2000, 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK
To name and shame

In response to murder of Sarah Payne, the News of the World "named and shamed" scores of people it said were guilty of sex offences against children. Can these tactics prevent such crimes in the future? By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley.

"If you are a parent you must read this," said Sunday's News of the World.

The tabloid newspaper went on to publish the names and photographs of dozens of people it said had perpetrated sex attacks on children.

Some 88% of us want parents to be told when a convicted paedophile moves in to their area, says a poll commissioned by the paper.
Sarah Payne
Sarah Payne's murder has prompted outrage

Since September 1997, moves have been made to monitor the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders. However, this information is restricted to the appropriate police force, the probation service and the local MP.

Under the Sex Offenders Act, those found guilty of crimes such as rape are obliged to report their name and address to a local police station within 14 days of their conviction or release from custody.

Those who receive a sentence of less than 30 months in jail must provide police with their address for up to a decade.

Address concerns

Those imprisoned for more serious sexual crimes must remain on the register indefinitely.

Anyone failing to register risks a six-month prison term or a 5,000 fine.

The register contains some 12,000 names; a compliance rate of 97%, says Tony Butler, of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

"We have the most successful sex offender register of any country in the world."

Critics of the register point to the 300-plus sex offenders who have gone to ground, particularly the 200 the National Criminal Intelligence Service considers a "cause for concern".
Sara and Micael Payne
Sarah Payne's parents back "naming and shaming"

Some individuals are thought to change address constantly to avoid the register.

Cutting the 14-day "grace" period between a sex offender moving and having to inform the authorities, has been mooted as one remedy.

Stiffer penalties for non-compliance have also been suggested. However, the rate of evasion is not seen as the UK register's greatest flaw.

"The best the Americans can do is 85% [compliance]," says Mr Butler.

Missing names

Some 250,000 Britons have been convicted of a sexual offence - 110,000 have targeted children. However, those convicted or released before 1997 are not compelled to join the register.

Nor are those given conditional discharges for more minor sexual offences, such as the possession of child pornography.

Pressure groups, such as End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (Ecpat), also complain that the register fails to include Britons convicted of sex crimes abroad.
Sex tourist in the Far East
Paedophiles can travel abroad unmonitored

Also, names on the UK register are not shared with foreign authorities if the offender decides to leave the country, says Helen Veitch of Ecpat.

"The monitoring process falls down when the offender goes overseas. We're very concerned for children abroad, who are being overlooked."

The government announced a review of the whole register on 25 June; proposals include placing ultra-violet stamps on the passports of offenders to alert foreign officials.

"That's not a very viable way forward. Immigration officials say there is just no way of checking all passports," says Ms Veitch.

Closed list

Despite its plans to tighten controls, the government remains adamant that it will not follow the American lead, and give the public access to its register.

"If offenders are being managed and monitored by the relevant professional agencies the risk they pose is minimised. The risk to the public is greatly increased if public attention forces offenders underground," says the Home Office.

This argument has not stopped calls for wider dissemination of offenders' details.
Megan Kanka
Paedophile naming began after Megan Kanka's murder

"I believe it is the duty of the authorities to notify all those affected - those who are at risk if something should go wrong," Tory MP Richard Shepherd told the Commons.

The MP suggested the UK should adopt "Megan's Law" - notification legislation pioneered in the state of New Jersey in the mid-1990s and copied across the US.

Following the murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka by a local convicted sex offender, her state pushed through laws to circulate details of paedophiles to schools and youth organisations.

For those guilty of the most serious offences, police officers have conducted door-to-door notifications in the paedophile's neighbourhood, telling householders not to share information with third parties.

Open secret

However, American courts are concerned leaks of the names, addresses and car registration numbers are all too common.

Some 16 states have gone further than New Jersey, publishing mugshots and addresses on their websites.

Despite official warnings and disclaimers, such sites have been seen by their critics as mere databases for vigilante groups.
Utah's sex offender online database
Some US states had sex offender wedsites

Even in New Jersey, where the website idea was rejected, at least one paedophile's home has been fired upon.

Naming and shaming can also tar the innocent. The Daily Mail reports a Manchester man was wrongly targeted by a mob following the News of the World campaign.

With many paedophiles targeting children within their own family, public notification may also stop many victims from seeking a conviction in the first place, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

"One reason attacks are not reported is the shame."

Perhaps not the "shame" the News of the World was hoping to produce.

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