Children At Risk: Police keep watch on freed paedophile

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Robert Oliver was one of a gang of paedophiles who killed 14-year- old Jason Swift. Now he is moving around the country and was in Brighton yesterday, under police surveillance. Kim Sengupta examines the problem society faces with a freed sex offender.

It is every parent's nightmare, to discover that a sex killer is living in their midst. That is what happened after the police and social services took the unusual step of revealing that Robert Oliver had moved into the Brighton area. They added, that in their view, he presented " a significant threat to the safety of young men and boys in the area".

Oliver is now under police surveillance. This is not just to ensure that he does not attack local children, but to protect him from vigilante action if his location became known. Privately, senior police and social service officers agree it is only a matter of time before he is forced to leave town.

He has already been hounded out of a house at Swindon, Wiltshire, after his release from prison last month, and then attacked after moving to a hostel in Whitechapel, east London. He has also been to Dublin, Liverpool, and Manchester. The paunchy, pony-tailed 43- year-old has come to symbolise the quandary faced by society at large on the emotive and controversial question of rehabilitating sex offenders.

Oliver was convicted of the manslaughter of Jason Swift during a gang rape of the 14 -year-old. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail, of which he served 10. Scotland Yard detectives believe the gang was responsible for the murder of at least three children, including six-year-old Barry Lewis from south-east London. The gang leader Sidney Cooke, 66, is due for release next April. He and Oliver plan a homosexual marriage.

Because Oliver was jailed before a change of sentencing laws in l991, he does not have to be monitored by the probation service. Prior to being jailed for manslaughter, he already had three convictions for assaults on boys. While in prison for the Swift killing he is reported to have boasted to fellow prisoners that he would kill again when free.

Sussex police discovered last Thursday that Oliver had moved to Brighton. After a crisis meeting with social services, education, and probation representatives, the police decided to alert residents using new powers provided by the Sex Offenders Act l977.

A detective inspector visited Oliver at his address to warn him about his conduct, and plans are being drawn up for schools and youth organisations to be alerted.

Detective Chief Inspector George Smith, of Brighton CID, said: "We are taking all the necessary steps to ensure the safety of the public." Another senior officer said: "It is only a matter of time before his whereabout become known, then he is bound to leave the area. What happens after that is anybody's guess. I am afraid there is no satisfactory solution to what we do with these people at the moment."

Oliver's presence is a source of deep concern for Brighton residents. Marie Corrigan, who has a four-year-old son, said: "Can you think of anything more worrying? All of us feel angry about this. We simply don't feel safe." Wendy Wheeler, a mother-of-three added: "This man must go. I don't care where he goes to, as long as he goes away from here."