Release deal for sex-crime prisoner

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The Independent Online
A DANGEROUS paedophile who is due to be released from prison next week has indicated that he is prepared to be locked up rather than return to a village where he abused children for 30 years.

Police and social workers have warned Rhys Hughes that he could be subjected to vigilante attacks if he goes home after being released from prison next Monday.

Hughes, 65, has served six years of a 10-year sentence for the rape and buggery of nine children, male and female, between 1957 and 1991.

A place has been found for him in a medium-secure unit, where he could be cared for at a cost to the public of around pounds 100,000-a-year. But because he was jailed before the introduction of the 1991 Criminal Justice Act he cannot be forced to accept supervision.

Officials fear that Hughes - who refused treatment while he was in Dartmoor prison and who had earlier insisted that he would return home on release - may change his mind again and go back to the Oxfordshire village where a 15-year-old girl, who he abused a decade ago, still lives.

Michael Biddulph, a spokesman for Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Probation Service, said that officials had to take contingency measures to cover all possible outcomes.

He said: "Secure accommodation is what we have all been working for. It would be in everybody's interest, including his own. But we also have to work on the basis that he will do what he earlier said he would do and go back to his own home."

Thames Valley Police have drawn up a major security programme to protect children in the village of Sonning Common where Hughes, a retired gardener, has spent most of his life.

Female police officers will operate a 24-hour telephone line, so that his former victim can summon help if she ever feels under threat. To help other children in the village, a network of eight safety houses is being set up to offer sanctuary to any children who are frightened at being confronted by Hughes. The house-owners have been vetted by police.

Carol Viney, chairman of the Sonning Common Parish Council, said that the security plan should be followed through in case Hughes returned at a later date.

"I don't think it would be dismantled if he goes into secure accommodation," she said. "The police have done everything they can possibly think of to minimise the risk and they have liaised with us constantly."

Ms Viney said local people preferred to rely on the police rather than to take the law into their own hands. "The village is still very calm and I would not have thought there is a huge vigilante group," she said.

Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, said that the cost of keeping Hughes in secure accommodation would be good value compared with the expense of trying to contain him in his home village.

"It's money well spent if it leads to treatment and protects children," he said. "All the research shows that with dangerous sex offenders, the more controls that are imposed on behaviour, the safer the community."

Hughes is one of at least six dangerous paedophiles among 150 sex offenders being released over the next two years without supervision.

Two who have already been freed - the child killers Sidney Cooke and Robert Oliver - agreed to be housed in secure accommodation after being the subject of violent demonstrations by protesters. Cooke is in secret police accommodation in Avon and Somerset, while Oliver is being held in a medium secure psychiatric unit near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.

However, Stephen Barrell - who was a member of the same paedophile gang as Cooke and Oliver - has vanished after being released early from a 10- year sentence.