Charities have voiced concerns that a pilot programme to disclose sex offenders to parents or guardians will put children in greater danger.
The Home Office pilot, launched today, will allow parents or guardians to check whether someone with unsupervised access to their child, such as a boyfriend or step-parent, has convictions for child sex offences. The scheme will be tested in four police force areas: Warwickshire, Hampshire, Cleveland and Cambridgeshire.
It follows the government’s Child Sex Offender Review, published in June 2007, and is a response to the Sarah’s Law public campaign to reveal the identities and whereabouts of paedophiles after the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne in 2000.
Sara Payne, the child’s mother, said the pilots were a “giant step towards truth and honesty when dealing with sex offenders”.
But children’s charity Barnardo’s, who advised the government against the disclosure approach, warned that the move could prompt more sex offenders to flee police and probation supervision when they could become “very dangerous indeed”.
Pam Hibbert, Barnardo’s assistant director of policy, said: “We have always said disclosure is not the right way to protect children.
“We know that in 80% of cases the abuser is likely to be known to the children. What we want to see is a good universal education campaign on the signs of someone trying to inveigle themselves into families to abuse children.”
Crime reduction charity Nacro agreed. Paul Cavadino, its chief executive, said: “The real test of these pilots will be whether this information can be kept confidential to the parents or whether it spreads to other people, causing a risk of vigilante attacks. If this happened it could drive offenders underground.
“The pilots must monitor this carefully to make sure the scheme does more good than harm.”