Papers `violate pervert privacy'

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NEWSPAPERS WERE accused yesterday of violating the privacy of paedophiles by senior probation officers who called for a clamp-down on the naming and shaming of sex offenders.

At a meeting with the Press Complaints Commission, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation warned that witch-hunts fuelled by media coverage were hampering the work of probation officers and putting the public at risk.

An association spokesman, George Barrow, said: "Because somebody has committed an abhorrent crime, that doesn't give journalists carte blanche to ignore the privacy and harassment aspects of the code [of practice] when the offenders are not reoffending." The association said that, although the public might be interested in finding out where offenders were living, if this was likely to spark civil disorder or disrupt probation programmes, printing the information was not necessarily in the public interest.

The meeting with the PCC was arranged after a string of high-profile controversies, most notably involving freed paedophiles including Robert Oliver and Sidney Cooke. The pair have been hounded out of several towns by vigilante action.

The association presented a catalogue of incidents involving innocent people mistaken for paedophiles being beaten up after newspaper identification of offenders and relatives of the latter being attacked. Some offenders had been driven underground out of fear of public violence, making it impossible for probation officers to monitor their activities.

The PCC said it was not commenting on yesterday's meeting, which a spokeswoman said was only a preliminary discussion of the issue.

But moves to curb newspaper disclosures came under fire from the National Association of Probation Officers. Its assistant general secretary, Harry Fletcher, said: "Naming and shaming certainly hampers the work of probation officers but it's something we've got to live with."

Kate Lowes, of Stop Paedophiles Exploiting and Abusing Kids, said she was "incredulous" that the chief officers of probation could accuse newspapers of violating the privacy of paedophiles. It was impossible for the probation service to monitor sex offenders constantly, making it imperative for parents to have the information to protect their children.