The question of whether a child abuser deserves the same civil rights as the rest of the general public is taxing the Government.
The Home Office said yesterday that ministers were looking at a package of measures to protect children from abuse, including banning sex offenders from places where they might be likely to re-offend. A spokeswoman said that ministers were not yet sure that the proposal was workable.
But Henry McLeish, home affairs minister for Scotland, had few doubts as he revealed that his department wished to introduce the orders with a five-year jail sentence for failure to comply. "We are keen to put this piece of the jigsaw in place," he said. "If there is a concern in a community, there could be a court order backed up by reports which will actually infringe on the liberties of this individual. It will detail areas they cannot go to.
"This could be an indefinite order, depending on their behaviour ... this will put tremendous pressure on the individual and it will reassure the community that the ... Government wants further action."
Mr McLeish denied that the proposal represented an unreasonable infringement of civil liberties. "We believe that some people's rights may have to be curbed if they are posing a threat," he said.
Scottish sheriffs could choose to bar paedophiles from burger bars, amusement arcades and other commercial premises as well as public areas.
Paul Cavadino, chairman of the Penal Affairs Consortium, said he was concerned that a five-year jail term might be imposed for "activity which does not amount to a sexual offence or an active attempt to commit one." He said he would prefer new legislation requiring lengthier post-release supervision for convicted paedophiles, which could include conditions restricting movement.
The need to address the growing public concern over the lack of checks on the activities of paedophiles is near the top of the Home Office agenda. Ministers are also looking at indeterminate sentences for more serious offenders. The Crime and Disorder Bill is intended to provide more supervision of sex offenders in the community.
Until even the 1980s, only scant knowledge existed of the activities of paedophiles and the lengths they were prepared to go to procure victims. Even now, the extent of sex offending against children is not clear.
The National Criminal Intelligence Service has some 25,000 individuals on its system, including some who have never been convicted but who are suspected of abusing children. Past Home Office studies have suggested that there may be as many as 110,000 child abusers in England and Wales.
Some 3,000 people have come forward to be placed on the new national paedophile register. Police said 83 per cent of the names on their files had been accounted for. But Harry Fletcher, the assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "The fact that they have put themselves on the register does not tell us whether they are continuing to prey on children".
The strength of feeling was highlighted last night when a crowd of 150 gathered outside a hostel in Rhymney, Gwent, suspecting a convicted paedophile was living there, though it later dispersed peacefully.
Leading article, page 20Reuse content