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Tuesday, June 22, 1999 Published at 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK

UK Politics

Blair backs paedophile unit

Nottingham Prison: Focus of local concern

A plan to house paedophile offenders in a Nottingham jail is the "best solution", the prime minister has said.

Three demonstrators brought the issue to national attention on Friday when they staged a rooftop protest.

Local residents in the Sherwood area of the city have also objected to the proposal for bedsits for child sex offenders at the prison.

The unit will be used to house convicted paedophiles who have completed their jail terms but cannot safely be placed in bail hostels outside prison.

The Nottingham scheme is regarded as a pilot and the idea may be extended throughout the country.

Large protests have taken place around Britain in recent months at locations where residents have believed released child sex offenders were staying.

'Best way forward'

During a visit to Nottingham, Tony Blair gave his support to the idea of setting up the unit in the prison.

Until new laws allowed paedophiles to be detained in prison indefinitely, such schemes could provide the best way forward, he said.

"It is very important that people realise that we cannot detain these people once they have served their sentence.

"What we are trying to do is make sure they have some level of supervision until a new law is enacted which will give the home secretary the power to detain these people indefinitely."

Residents' concerns

Unless child sex offenders could be offered accommodation in such units, they would return to the general community unsupervised, Mr Blair said.

"We cannot stop these people being set free and the new law cannot be imposed retrospectively so we need something to give us a level of supervision where at the moment there is none," he said.

But residents of the area around Sherwood Prison note it contains junior and infants' school and a maternity hospital.

Paedophiles choosing to stay in the unit would be allowed to leave and return at will, although they would be offered a guard to escort them.

The Home Office has promised to put public safety at the top of its list when setting up the unit.

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