Leading Article: These paedophiles should stay in jail

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The Independent Culture
THE SEXUAL abuse of children touches on our deepest fears, so it is important to guard against the irrational in responding to it. As a society, and as localities, we should resist vigilantism and insist that crowds do not take the law into their own hands. It should be remembered that there are very, very few compulsive paedophiles like Rhys Hughes, the 65-year-old man who will be let out of prison in two weeks' time.

However, their rarity - there are perhaps half a dozen cases this serious who are not covered by the restrictions on movement of the 1991 Criminal Justice Act - is no consolation to people who find themselves living near them. As we report today, Hughes, who was imprisoned for the rape and buggery of nine children, intends to move back to the village where one of his victims from a decade ago is still living.

It seems extraordinary that someone like Hughes - or Sidney Cooke and Robert Oliver - cannot be detained. The prison authorities and police feel that he is still a danger to the public, and yet must let him go. Unlike Cooke and Oliver, he refuses to surrender himself to police protection. It was a serious omission in the 1991 legislation that no provision was made to reassess paedophiles jailed before it came into effect.

The present Home Secretary cannot be held liable for the original omission, but he has surely had enough time to try to put it right. The problems that the releases of Cooke and Oliver caused local police forces and the Home Office in London should have been warning enough, to say nothing of the massive cost of protecting such people.

It does not matter that the number of potential offenders is small; Jack Straw needs to extend the 1991 law to those jailed before it came into effect. This would not be retrospective legislation, because each case would have to be reviewed as prisoners came up for release. The Prison Service is right to look at drugs - so-called "chemical castration" - but we should not expect too much of it. The problem is in the mind, not the genitals. We know now that little that can be done about compulsive paedophiles apart from indefinite detention or supervision - subject, of course, to an appeal that could be heard and argued out in court.

Mr Straw has, after all, legislated to allow the eviction of antisocial neighbours, and if people can be moved out of their homes and told where to live because their children are out of control, how much greater is the case for restricting the movement of paedophiles who cannot control themselves? Mr Straw should act now.