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Wednesday, May 6, 1998 Published at 00:38 GMT 01:38 UK


New group to oversee paedophile release
image: [ Police cannot control offenders sentenced before 1991 ]
Police cannot control offenders sentenced before 1991

A national unit is being set up to deal with the United Kingdom's most dangerous paedophiles.

The group will include police and probation officers who will identify high-profile sex offenders and work out a plan to handle their release from prison.

The BBC's Alison Holt says the idea of a committee offers little reassurance to some (1'21")
It follows recent demonstrations, some of them violent, over the release of child-killer Sidney Cooke.

The announcement was made by the Home Secretary Jack Straw in a letter to the Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown.

Mr Ashdown's constituency of Yeovil has been the scene of repeated demonstrations against Sidney Cooke, who protesters believed was being held at the town's police station.

At least five more "predatory" paedophiles are thought to be awaiting release from jail without supervision.

Because they were sentenced before the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, police and probation officers have no powers to control them after they are let out.

And they cannot be held in secure hospitals because they are regarded as "untreatable".

Sidney Cooke was released from prison last month after serving nine years of a 16-year term for the manslaughter of teenager Jason Swift.

[ image: Sidney Cooke - falls through the
Sidney Cooke - falls through the "loophole"
He was immediately taken to a police station for his own protection after his release.

Protests were held outside police stations in Avon and Somerset where Cooke was thought to be. He remains under police guard.

Robert Oliver, a member of Sidney Cooke's paedophile gang, was judged to be a "sexual deviant with a personality disorder" by specialists after his release from jail last year.

Despite judging him to have a high risk of re-offending, specialists refused to take him at their hospitals because he is regarded as untreatable.

It took Sussex police four months to find him suitable accommodation.

The Prisons and Probation Minister, Joyce Quin, said officials were looking at altering the Mental Health Act to address the "legal loophole" in such cases.


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