Children at risk: Controversy as C4 provides platform for paedophiles

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The Independent Online
A controversial Channel 4 documentary to be screened tonight will interview named paedophiles about their desires and beliefs. Critics say it is giving a dangerous platform for child molesters to legitimise their values. Glenda Cooper, Social Affairs Correspondent, asks whether such a programme should be shown.

"We have got to work towards a society which casts out discrimination, prejudice and bigotry." This is Paul. He is talking about the need for society to stop discriminating against paedophiles. He also says he would love to come out and have an open relationship with a child where they did "the same things as heterosexuals do with each other".

He is one of five paedophiles interviewed for The Devil Amongst Us. There is also Gil, 75, who has kept his paedophiliac tendencies secret from his wife and children, Rob who communicates with other "boy lovers" via the Internet, Colin, convicted of possessing indecent material after filming young boys, and Peter Hamilton Harvey, who was convicted of indecent assault. All have one chilling thing in common: not one will admit any wrong in their desire for children.

"I don't feel I ever have been a danger to children," says Gil, who claims never to have acted on his desires. "I have been tempted but the very idea of doing something that would traumatise a child physically or psychologically, that's complete anathema to me.

"I could never hurt a child in any way. I would like a loving relationship between myself and a child as near to adult relationship as reasonably possible."

Those who work with sex offenders and their victims say that the documentary gives a "platform for criminals" who are allowed to put forward their views unchallenged. Views such as those of Colin who still cannot "see what all the fuss was about" over his film which showed three 12-year- old boys urinating, defecating and simulating masturbation. "My role as an adult was to supervise and protect them from paedophiles."

Mike Taylor, of the NSPCC, said of the programme: "It is a chilling account of how men who have no moral scruples and who do not share the values of our society operate in sexually abusing children."

But Dea Birkett, the writer and journalist who presents the film says she made it because she feels that we need to know more about such people in order to deal with them. "I felt we actually needed to confront them, to look at them - what they think, what they do - basically to unhood them. There have always been victims but we need to know more about them so there are no more victims."

But Mr Taylor responded: "Who is speaking out for the children in all this? It is very unfortunate that the film does not take the child's perspective into account as well as that of the perpetrator of the abuse."

Paul Cavadino, principal officer for the National Association for the Care and Resettlement and Offenders, added that the programme was "giving a platform to criminals to justify their activities that cause life-long damage to children". And he went on: "It's an unbalanced programme - there is no reference to the victims or survivors of paedophiles.

"And from the standpoint of those working with offenders there were only unrepentant paedophiles."

The programme makers argue that they show equally strongly people who have taken action against paedophiles such as Tony Shepherd, who tells of his attempts to get Mr Hamilton Harvey to leave the neighbourhood, including throwing a brick into the car of his 71-year-old father and setting fire to a car that belonged a friend of the family.

Those actions got him put on probation otherwise Mr Shepherd says, he planned to "to take [Hamilton Harvey] away to the area of Wareham forest ... He was going to be taught a lesson, going to be given a very serious warning he was not wanted any more and that it was in his best interests to move [We were going to] nail him to a tree."

"We must meet and confront paedophiles," says Ms Birkett who describes making the documentary as confronting her own worst fears. "We must learn how to deal with them without resorting to the bricks and the petrol bombs so we can protect children without violence or fear."

Ray Wyre, a therapist who has worked for many years with sex offenders, said: "There is a responsibility on us. This programme may reinforce their beliefs. These people believe what they do is not wrong, they believe society is wrong. Other people watching could have their belief system reinforced."

Asked last night to comment, Peter Grimsdale, commissioning editor for religion at Channel 4 said: "At the very least the programme informs the debate by acknowledging, unpalatable as the truth might be, that paedophiles do exist and they live amongst us."