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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Sex offenders face new crackdown
Police on the beat in London
Blunkett is to announce new police number targets
A fresh crackdown on sex offenders has been signalled by Home Secretary David Blunkett in his Labour conference speech.

Convicted offenders who try to sneak back into the UK without owning up to their crimes could face up to five years imprisonment under the proposals.

Mr Blunkett also used his speech to say he would boost police numbers by 2,500 by 2004.

The home secretary has come under fire from some figures in the Labour movement for his rhetoric about asylum seekers and civil liberties - comments he defended vigorously in Blackpool.

Toughest laws

With the mother of murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne's at the conference, Mr Blunkett announced that all 18,500 people on the Sex Offenders Register would be obliged to re-register their details with the police annually, instead of every five years as at present.

Failing to comply with that requirement could also carry a five-year jail term.

Mr Blunkett promised "to clamp down on the evil around us".

New technology would be used to check the location of convicted paedophiles, he said.

The murder of Sarah Payne prompted new calls for the public to be allowed to know where sex offenders were living.

Mr Blunkett said communities would be represented in the supervision process.

But he added: "I want to say quietly to those who are campaigning, we cannot open the registers to the vigilantes who cannot understand the difference between a paediatrician and a paedophile."

David Blunkett and Cherie Blair
David Blunkett, here with Cherie Blair, criticises Labour reactionaries
The measures are being trailed as helping to give the UK the "toughest child protection laws" anywhere in the world.

Mr Blunkett also announced a new target of getting police numbers up to 132,500 by 2004.

The current target of 130,000 by next spring would be easily reached, he said.

He also trailed plans to boost the number of community support officers, whose introduction earlier this year caused some controversy.

Labour's 'reactionaries'

Mr Blunkett said more needed to be done to make prison a second option for dealing with offenders.

With the prison population rising, "tough" community sentences had to be offered as an alternative to jail.

And more needed to be done on education and rehabilitation schemes to push people away from returning to a life of crime.

Bill Morris
Bill Morris has voiced wider disquiet on Blunkett's comments

Mr Blunkett has provoked the anger of sections of the Labour Party in recent months.

At a Tribune rally on Tuesday, Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, argued Mr Blunkett had "debased his office by using terms like swamping" about asylum seekers.

Freedom fears

"I did not accept the term swamping from a Tory government, a Tory minister, and I sure as hell will not accept it from a Labour minister in a government I, along with the rest of you, worked to elect," said Mr Morris.

Civil freedoms were being gradually eroded and the overall effect was "we will find ourselves in a totally different country as far as our liberties our concerned".

Mr Morris it was wrong to destroy such freedoms "on the basis of one or two career moves".

Facing the critics

Mr Blunkett tried to counter such criticisms, arguing that putting more emphasis on helping victims did not mean innocent people lost their rights.

He underlined the benefits immigrants could bring to the UK, but there had to be action people coming into the UK and working clandestinely.

Mr Blunkett also issued a robust defence of his most recent controversial comments - urging immigrants to speak more English in their homes "as well as the mother tongue".

"I did so not to dictate but because through speaking English, through an understanding of citizenship, the opportunity for education, for employment is opened up," he added.

It had been thought Mr Blunkett could get a rough ride from some delegates because of recent rows - but he earned a standing ovation instead.

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30 Sep 02 | Politics
21 May 01 | Americas
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