Law Report: Paedophiles should have been given information

Law REPORT: 26 march 1998
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Regina v Chief Constable of the North Wales Police and others, ex parte AB and CD; Court of Appeal (Lord Woolf, Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Schiemann and Lord Justice Robert Walker) 16 March 1998

ALTHOUGH the police should have disclosed to recently released sex offenders the gist of a police report which had formed part of their consideration of the risk posed by the offenders to the public, the opportunity to comment on the report would not have altered the decision of the police to reveal the offenders' identity.

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Divisional Court (Law Report, 16 July 1997) dismissing applications for judicial review of the decision of the North Wales Police to reveal the identity of two former sex offenders.

The appellants, who were husband and wife, had been released after serving sentences of 11 years' imprisonment for serious sexual offences against children. As a result of adverse publicity in local newspapers, they had had to move several times, and had eventually bought a caravan and moved to a site near Wrexham.

The local police had received a copy of a Northumbria police report, which recorded probation service views that the appellants were

extremely dangerous people who will pose a considerable risk to children and vulnerable adults in the community in which they settle and . . . will target and procure such people for sexual abuse.

The report suggested they had resisted all forms of therapy intervention.

After a meeting of the local police child protection team, at which it had been pointed out that the statement in the report that the appellants had refused therapy was incorrect, it had nevertheless been decided that attempts should be made to encourage the appellants to move from the caravan site, where many children would be staying over the Easter holidays.

The appellants had remained at the site and it had been decided that the site owner should be informed of their past history. He had told them to move on, and their whereabouts were currently unknown.

Edward Fitzgerald QC and Tim Owen (Michael Purdon, Newcastle-upon-Tyne) for the appellants; Presiley Baxendale and Pushpinder Saini (Mrs J.A. Trigger, Colwyn Bay) for the Chief Constable; James Eadie (Treasury Solicitor) for the Home Secretary; Michael Douglas QC and Stephen Barker, solicitor (Eversheds, Birmingham) Nacro.

Lord Woolf MR said that the appellants had not substantially challenged the reasons for dismissing their application for judicial review. The argument had instead revolved around new issues, against the background of fresh policy guidance issued by the Home Office to police forces as to the management of information about sex offenders. It was argued that the North Wales Police had treated the appellants in a procedurally unfair manner, having been influenced throughout by the Northumbria police report.

The decision whether to disclose the identity of paedophiles to the public was a sensitive one. In the present case the gist of what the police had learned about the appellants should have been disclosed to them. They might have had information which could have caused the police to re-assess the degree of risk which they posed. Having said that, however, and bearing in mind that the police were aware of the inaccuracies in the Northumbria police report but were still of the opinion that the appellants created a high degree of risk, any information which they could have given would not have altered the outcome.

The result of the passage of time between the hearing before the Divisional Court and the hearing of the appeal had been to draw attention to the advantages, where it was practical, of obtaining an offender's version of events.

It had also highlighted the significance of trying to find appropriate accommodation for offenders when they were released from prison. If previous sexual offenders knew that help with safe accommodation would be available, they were less likely to go to ground. If their whereabouts were known it would be easier to minimise the danger of further offending. It was now recognised that what was required above all was a proactive rather than a reactive policy for dealing with offenders who had committed offences against children in the past.

There was however no relief that would be appropriate to grant to the appellants and the appeal was dismissed.

Kate O'Hanlon, Barrister