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The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"Senior Tories say it is not a knee-jerk reaction"
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Michael Ancram, Conservative Party Chairman
"What William Hague has proposed this morning is a measured response"
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Sunday, 13 August, 2000, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Hague: Life terms for paedophiles
William Hague
William Hague: Sarah Payne's death "touched a deep nerve"
Conservative leader William Hague has said courts should be given more powers to impose automatic life sentences on some repeat child abusers.

Mr Hague said paedophiles should be restricted from living near their victims and be under tighter supervision, including electronic tagging.

He gave his comments in a newspaper article in the wake of the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne last month, whose death he said had "touched a very deep nerve with the British people".


If there are fewer guilty pleas, more offenders could walk free from court

Paul Cavadino, Nacro

In response, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro) said there is a "strong case" for new indefinite sentences for dangerous paedophiles, but that life terms may be counterproductive.

Paul Cavadino, director of policy at Nacro, said: "Automatic life sentences could increase the risk to children.

"If an offender faces a life sentence for indecently assaulting a child, what would be the deterrent to his going further and committing a more extreme offence if he will receive life anyway?".

'Tighter supervision'

Mr Hague's proposals, which were not presented as policy pledges, were:

  • Automatic life sentences for some repeat offenders
  • Limit offenders contacting or living near victims
  • Tighter supervision of offenders
  • Electronic tagging after prison release
  • Britons convicted of sex crimes abroad to sign offenders' register on return

Mr Cavadino said a further problem with automatic life sentences could be that offenders would not plead guilty.

"It is already difficult to convict abusers when it is their word against a child's. If there are fewer guilty pleas, more offenders could walk free from court," he said.


We do not, as a society, feel safe from the menace of sex offenders

William Hague
But he added: "Mr Hague's call for more extended supervision of sex offenders will receive widespread support."

Mr Hague, writing in the Sunday Times newspaper, condemned recent anti-paedophile protests in Portsmouth.

Hundreds of people have taken to the streets on the Paulsgrove estate in the town to protest against alleged sex offenders in the community.

He wrote: "However strong and understandable the emotions of those parents on the Portsmouth housing estate are, the resort to the rule of the mob is absolutely wrong."

'Cross-party consensus'

He added: "We do not, as a society, believe that the present laws provide sufficient protection for our children.

"We want our elected politicians and criminal justice system to see what more can be done."

John Prescott
Mr Prescott says Labour is already reviewing paedophile strategy
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott welcomed Mr Hague's comments, which come as the government is reviewing the sex offenders' register.

He added that Labour is already doing much of what Mr Hague is proposing.

"If you can get a consensus between political parties in the review of the child offenders' register at the present time it is very welcome," he told BBC One's Breakfast With Frost programme.

In the newspaper Mr Hague made passing reference to a newspaper's campaign for legislation to open up access to the sex offenders' register, but gave no view on the debate.

The News of the World newspaper has called for the register to be made publicly available.

But the Home Office intimated that increased access to the register would only be permitted on a "controlled" basis.

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