Children at risk: Child killer hides in cell from angry parents

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For two days, child sex killer Robert Oliver has been living in a police cell to protect him from the public. But the door is unlocked and he is free to leave at any time without reporting to the authorities. Ian Burrell says 200 more sex offenders could similarly be released without supervision.

The mothers and children walking past the police station in Brighton yesterday were unaware of the close presence of a murderous child abuser.

But the police officers who sought to keep Robert Oliver's presence a secret from the public feared as much for the killer's safety as for the threat he posed to others.

Oliver, who was sentenced to 15 years for the murder of 14-year-old Jason Swift, was described by police yesterday as being "frightened and destitute".

Since being released from Wandsworth prison three weeks ago and registering on the national paedophile register, Oliver has been hounded out of Swindon, London, Dublin, Liverpool and Manchester.

He cut his hair and wore glasses to avoid recognition, but when he arrived in Brighton social services sent warning letters to the parents of 27,000 children in the town.

In an interview with the Brighton Evening Argus, Oliver, 43, complained: "I am constantly looking over my shoulder. I am frightened for my life. It feels like a lynch mob is out there waiting to get me."

Sussex police have moved him to a station in another part of the force area, and is bearing the estimated pounds 110-a-day cost of his stay.

A spokesman said it was cheaper to keep Oliver in the station than to deploy resources keeping him under surveillance on the streets.

"This is only a short-term solution. He could leave at any time but there is no sign that he will. We are working with social services to find a long-term solution which would mean secure accommodation."

Yet because Oliver was sentenced prior to the Criminal Justice Act of 1992 he is not subject to any supervision order and is free to come and go as he pleases.

The National Association of Probation Officers yesterday estimated that there were some 200 sex offenders, all sentenced before 1992, who could also be released without such orders. Among them could be Oliver's former partner in crime Sidney Cooke.

Yesterday, a national campaign was launched to lobby Jack Straw, the home secretary, to block Cooke's release. The campaign - "Stop Paedophiles Exploiting and Abusing Kids" (Speak) - has been set up by Kate Lowes, a nurse from Sunderland.

Cooke, 68, was sentenced to 19 years - reduced to 16 on appeal - for his part in a murderous paedophile ring in Hackney, east London. The gang was responsible for the deaths of at least three boys, Jason Swift, Mark Tildersley and Barry Lewis.