Police get powers to check sex offenders

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The Independent Online
POLICE will be able to use new powers to stop a threat to children by 150 sex offenders who are due to be released from custody without supervision over the next two years.

The public outcry at the disclosure that notorious paedophiles were due to be released led the Home Office and Downing Street yesterday to seek to reassure the public that action could be taken to protect children in certain areas such as schools and playgrounds.

Home Office sources last night confirmed that new orders could be imposed on sex offenders by chief constables, if they presented a threat to children.

As the Government faced mounting anger, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "The Government recognises the public concern about protecting children from paedophiles ... The police and probation service have a role to play."

The police and the probation service expressed anxiety about the pending releases. But Downing Street said the police would be expected to use the powers in new legislation to tackle sex offenders, if they posed a threat to children. Extended supervision is part of the Crime and Disorder Bill, which should become law by the autumn.

There was confusion over the powers that will be available to the police after confirmation by Alun Michael, a Home Office minister, that the Government was powerless to stop the sex offenders being allowed out of custody without supervision.

"The law cannot turn the clock back and increase the punishment that was given at the time. I think the instincts of everybody is that should happen," Mr Michael said. But the Home Office source said: "It will be possible for a sex offender order to apply to these people."

It will allow offenders who demonstrate that they may be a danger to public to be returned to jail for up to six months. The Downing Street spokesman said police chief could apply for a sex offender order under the Bill if they believe the sex offender is behaving in a way that poses a threat. "They could stop known sex offenders from standing outside school gates, or going into a play ground."

But the spokesman added: "It is impossible to have retrospective legislation in this respect. You cannot apply additional punishments to people retrospectively when they have served their sentence."

Chris Hook, whose daughter Sophie was murdered by paedophile Howard Hughes, said dangerous sex offenders should never be allowed out of jail. He backed a system used in some American states where paedophiles are assessed for risk at the end of their sentence and if they are still judged to be dangerous, they are given an additional prison term.

Paul Cavadino, principal officer of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, said supervision of paedophiles after release was "crucial" to stop them reoffending.

The Crime and Disorder Bill should be amended so "sex offender orders" could include compulsory supervision, he said.

Tory MP Nicholas Winterton called for "urgent action" from the Home Secretary, Jack Straw. But the former Conservative prisons minister, Ann Widdecombe, said: "We should keep things in proportion."