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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 11:54 GMT
Sarah's Law 'unworkable'
Roy Whiting
Roy Whiting was on the sex offenders register
The government is at the centre of an intense debate over the introduction of new laws to protect children from sex offenders, in the wake of the Sarah Payne case.

It was revealed Roy Whiting had a 1995 conviction for sexually assaulting another young girl after he was convicted on Wednesday of kidnapping and murdering eight-year-old Sarah.


There's nothing to stop an offender whose name has been disclosed in one area...driving 100 miles to another area

Beverley Hughes
Home Office minister
Sarah's parents are demanding the introduction of Sarah's Law - a version of America's Megan's Law where communities are told the whereabouts of known paedophiles.

But the government and other critics of the proposals fear access to such information could drive paedophiles underground and lead to vigilante attacks.

Difficulties

Home Office minister Beverley Hughes said the home secretary had looked at the idea of Sarah's Law and had concluded that it would make protecting children even harder for the police.

"It's unworkable," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"There's nothing to stop an offender whose name has been disclosed in one area buying a van and driving 100 miles to another area.

Sarah Payne
Sarah Payne was snatched after a day out with her family
"Parents themselves also move. They visit family, they go on holiday. The idea that you can give parents all the time the names of people who might be a threat is simply unworkable."

Ethney Wallace, head of the National Probation Service, said any such law could jeopardise the work of probation and police officers in keeping track of sex offenders.

"You create an illusion of safety by doing this that is not actually true," she said.

Terry Grange, who deals with sex offender issues for the Association of Chief Police Officers, agreed but admitted that the current system could not offer "absolute safety" for the public.

"Currently we have the register of sex offenders and 97% of those who should register have," he told Today.

"Because we know where they are, we are able to conduct assessments as to the risk they pose, monitor their movements, treat them where it is possible and manage them to the best of our ability.

"But having said that, I have to be completely honest and say there is no absolute safety for the public."

'Hit-and-miss system'

The News of the World newspaper is supporting the Paynes' bid for new legislation, after its previous controversial decision to 'name and shame' sex offenders.

Stuart Kuttner, managing editor of the News of the World, said Sarah's Law would not be a vigilante's charter.

"We think it is right that you may be able to go to the police or the local probation service and say tell me is there anyone I need to be alerted to or aware of."

He added that paedophiles already went underground and the current system was hit and miss.


People are being let out of prison when everybody concerned knows that this is going to happen again

Sara Payne
Ms Hughes argued that a more constructive approach would be to look at sentencing and treatment for paedophiles.

Tougher sentences have already been introduced since Whiting's first conviction when he was sentenced to four years and served two and half years.

But in January, Home Secretary David Blunkett is due to give the government's response to a sentencing review with proposals to follow by Spring.

It is likely these will include life sentences for some sex crimes for which there are currently lesser penalties and no automatic release of sex offenders who have served two thirds of their sentence.

Ms Hughes said getting these changes through parliament was a priority.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The police and probation service are not very keen"
The BBC's Ben McCarthy
"Sara Payne says her daughter can now rest in peace"
The BBC's Andrew Hosken
hears public opinion in Littlehampton
See also:

13 Dec 01 | UK
Do we need a 'Sarah's Law'?
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