Sex offender misunderstanding puts children at risk

Children are being put at risk because professionals such as the police and social workers assume all child sex offenders are automatically banned from working with children, according to a leading child protection expert.

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Children are being put at risk because professionals such as the police and social workers assume all child sex offenders are automatically banned from working with children, according to a leading child protection expert.

Mark Williams-Thomas, a child protection consultant and former detective, said people would be shocked to discover just how many abusers are left free to work with children because of loopholes in the child protection system.

His comments follow news that hundreds of convicted child sex offenders were allowed to work with children in Northern Ireland after courts failed to disqualify them.

According to reports, a review carried out by the Court Service revealed that in around 480 cases well over half of offenders (57%) were not banned from working with children.

Williams-Thomas said in his opinion all child sex offenders should be automatically banned from working with children, including anyone convicted of a child sex offence and anyone cautioned for viewing or possessing indecent images of children.

“Many assume that a conviction or caution for child sex offences results in an automatic ban from working with children – it doesn’t,” he said.

“If a judge issues an order disqualifying an offender from working with children, or if police obtain a Sexual Offences Prevention Order, then the offender would be committing an offence by working with children again.

“But if these orders are not in place, and if an employer does not carry out a criminal record check, then there is nothing to stop an offender from working with children. People would be shocked to know how many abusers this could let through. It is a massive loophole and it is being exploited all the time,” he added.

He blamed a “lack of knowledge and awareness” among the judiciary and police forces and “an assumption that offenders are being disqualified, even though they aren’t”.

He said the problem highlighted how “vitally important” it is that employers carry out criminal record bureau (CRB) checks, but said the best solution would be automatic disqualifications, particularly since the government has recently relaxed the requirements around the vetting and barring scheme.

“The situation is now better than it was, but judges are still not always being asked to consider disqualification, and there is still argument over the correlation between certain offences and the risks posed to children,” Williams-Thomas said.

He added that individuals can appeal their orders in certain circumstances.

Community Care is awaiting a response from the Ministry of Justice and the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

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