Paedophiles with nowhere to turn

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A GOVERNMENT committee set up to oversee the release of dangerous sex offenders is planning the first national specialist unit dedicated to housing released paedophiles.

The unit would be made up of two facilities, one a holding centre and the other a treatment centre, and would cater for 50 serious offenders.

The Independent has learnt that members of the committee are concerned about the public hostility to housing released offenders in the community and feel that a specialist unit is now the most viable option.

The difficulties in accommodating such offenders were underlined yesterday with the announcement that one of Britain's most notorious paedophiles, Robert Oliver, would not be allowed to stay at a halfway house in a Midlands village.

The Langley House Trust, which runs the Wing Grange rehabilitation centre for low-risk offenders in Rutland, refused Oliver a place saying he would not agree to proposed restrictions on his movements.

This shows the immense problem the Home Office faces in accommodating more than 100 sex offenders who are due to be released without supervision in the next two years.

But yesterday Gill Mackenzie, a chief probation officer who sits on the committee - announced in May by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and consists of government officials, police and probation officers - revealed that a specialist paedophile unit was under consideration.

She said: "We are exploring the potential of developing a treatment and holding facility which are in close proximity to each other and can assist and support each other."

It is now almost a year since Oliver was released from prison and the search for somewhere to house him continues.

An object of public hatred from almost the first moment he became a free man, he has been hounded from town to town. A police cell and a psychiatric treatment unit have provided temporary respite but nobody is prepared to give him a long-term home.

Mr Straw had personally intervened in Oliver's proposed move to Wing Grange, trying to reassure an irate local community that the predatory paedophile posed them no risk.

But yesterday the charity decided that Oliver's presence would be too damaging to its local reputation and the work it was doing with other clients.

So Oliver, who spent four months in a Sussex police cell at a public cost of pounds 50,000, will continue to stay in an expensive treatment unit in Milton Keynes, which is not designed for long-term care.

Oliver's former paedophile associate, Sidney Cooke, remains in a West Country police station more than three months after being set free.

The slightest rumours of Cooke's presence have provoked angry public demonstrations, which turned to violence in Bristol when a mob turned on police whom they accused of protecting a sex offender.

So vitriolic has been the public reaction that Mr Straw is looking at producing booklets advising parents on more measured ways of protecting their children from abuse.

In May, the Home Secretary set up a national committee to examine the best means of accommodating the paedophiles awaiting imminent release from jail.

Among them are Rhys Hughes, 64, who was sentenced to 10 years for offences against children and is reportedly planning to move next door to a girl he raped when she was four when he is released from jail later this year.

Also soon to be freed are Lennie Smith, a convicted paedophile and former associate of Cooke's, and Jason Trask, 49, who was jailed in 1993 for assaulting four boys.

The Prison Reform Trust, which has been inundated with letters and telephone calls from sex offenders fearful about public anger at their release, said it was producing a leaflet to let such prisoners know where they stood in the eyes of the law.