150 sex offenders to go free without controls

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UP TO 150 sex offenders, including at least six notorious paedophiles considered a serious risk to children, are to be released from jail without supervision within the next two years, it was revealed yesterday.

The police, probation and social services, are becoming increasingly alarmed at their apparent powerlessness to deal with dozens of convicted sex criminals who have escaped new laws which clamp down on rapists and paedophiles.

Alun Michael, the Home Office minister, will be urged in a meeting next Thursday to introduce a new register of suspected serious sex criminals, provide greater secure accommodation for newly-released offenders, and to close the loophole that allows dangerous former convicts to go unsupervised into society.

The case of child killer Robert Oliver was used yesterday to illustrate the problem. Police revealed that he arrived in Brighton, Sussex, last October and met up with a convicted paedophile before visiting the children's section of Hove library, the pier, and the beach to watch children. The police were unable to intervene, despite experts assessment of him as a "very high risk" who "clearly still had an interest in young boys."

Sussex Police also disclosed that it has spent about pounds 100,000 accommodating Oliver in a cell for four months for his protection and is currently paying pounds 320 a day to keep him in a secure private clinic in Milton Keynes.

Oliver was released from prison last September after serving eight years of a 15-year sentence for the manslaughter of 14-year-old Jason Swift.

Penny Buller, chief probation officer for East Sussex, told a conference in London yesterday that the Home Office had disclosed that there are 150 more sex offenders, who like Oliver, are due to be released from prison without supervision over the next two years. Among the offenders are six dangerous paedophiles, described as posing a serious risk to the public, including Sidney Cooke, a member of the gang which raped and killed Jason Swift. He is due to leave prison next month after serving 11 years of a 19-year term.

The legal loophole has been created by the Criminal Justice Act 1991which only obliges people convicted of a sex offence after 1992 to have supervision, usually by the probation service, when they are released. Ironically, offenders sentenced before 1992 would get supervision only if they were considered low risk and released early.

All people who commit a serious sexual crime are placed on the new sex offenders register which is supposed to allow the police to keep track of them, but critics argue this does little to prevent reoffending.

Ms Buller told the conference on sexual offending that she spent four months trying to find somewhere to put Oliver after he asked for police protection: The police even tried a religious retreat in the Outer Hebrides. She warned the episode would be repeated with other dangerous sex offenders.

"The predatory, violent paedophile is a rarity but when the half dozen come out of jail without supervision this is going to cause an immense amount of concern," she said.