Sex evidence misused as prison pornography

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The Independent Online
A new law to prevent alleged rapist and paedophiles from using victim's photographs and statements as pornography is to be introduced, it was announced yesterday.

The clampdown on suspected sex offenders follows reports that evidence, which usually includes details of the alleged assaults, is being distributed among inmates in prison. There are also fears that statements and explicit photographs are being swapped among paedophile groups outside jails.

The initiative was revealed by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, at the Police Federation's annual conference in Scarborough, to prevent victims suffering further trauma and being frightened of giving evidence.

He told delegates: "Victims of sexual offences suffer appalling crimes. Their distress should not be made worse by defendants and their friends misusing victim statements and photographs as a form of pornography.

"Of course defendants must be able to see all the evidence against them. But for them to keep and misuse sensitive material is an affront to victims."

Prosecution documents, including witness statements, are currently made available to defendants under disclosure rules to help them mount a defence.

Mr Howard said a consultation paper is being drawn up to prevent any abuse of the system. The new legislation, which could be introduced in a forthcoming Crime Bill in the autumn, will make it an offence for defendants to keep the protected material in their possession. Instead, they will only be able to look at it while under supervision, probably in the presence of a solicitor.

The move represents the Government's latest attack on paedophile activities. It is already completing a consultation paper outlining measures which would force convicted paedophiles and other sex offenders to register with the police every time they move home, and restrictions on the employment of convicted offenders, particularly in jobs giving them access to children.

In a speech designed to win police support in the run up to the election, Mr Howard paidtribute to the service and the bravery of its officers and repeated his proposals for tougher sentences. He was rewarded with loud applause bydelegates who represent 126,000 rank-and-file officers.

Earlier, Fred Broughton, chairman of the federation,raised his concerns about the growing gun culture in Britain.

"It is intolerable that criminals can act on the streets of Britain in the manner of the street gangs of American cities," he said. "We must take concerted action to stop this drug-and-gun culture from taking such a hold that it mirrors the American experience."

He added that the criminal use of guns was on the increase and that illegal weapons can be obtained "with ease".

He also expressed his fear that any recommendations on firearms made by the forthcoming Cullen inquiry, set up after the Dunblane massacre, would come too late for the Government to introduce before the election.

The federation went on to pass an emergency motion urgently to review its policy on the possession and use of firearms and to persuade the Government to introduce changes.

Mr Howard said he had ensured there would be enough time available in the autumn for legislation to go through.

A leaflet giving advice on how to hand in guns and ammunition during June's firearms amnesty was also launched yesterday. It will be available at police stations, citizens' advice bureaux and libraries.

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