This man is a convicted sex offender: Should he be denied somewhere to live?

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The Independent Online
A council official faces disciplinary action for allegedly alerting mothers on a Birmingham council estate that a paedophile was moving into the area.

The case raises the questions of whether convicted sex offenders should be able to live in the community and, if so, whether people should be informed.

Mike Wood, a housing officer for Birmingham City Council, allegedly tipped off mothers on the estate in Garrett's Green that George Taylor, a man who had been jailed for indecent assault on a young girl, was moving into the area.

Mr Wood was suspended on full pay last November when the allegations came to light. While he has now appeared in front of Birmingham city housing officials three times, public support for him on the Clopton Road estate has been running high with a 1,000-name petition handed into housing officials.

Kelly Forbes, 20, who has a three-year-old son, claimed that Mr Taylor sent her love letters scrawled on the back of cigarette packets and beer mats which he posted through her front door. She said: "He shouldn't have been allowed to live around here where there are children."

The case is the latest to come to light in a long-running debate. Last December, ministers announced that paedophiles and other sex offenders will have to register their addresses with the police and that they were also considering a system from the United States in which communities were informed when paedophiles moved into the district.

There was anger when it was disclosed that a senior social worker had warned that Shaun Armstrong, who killed three-year-old Rosie Palmer in Hartlepool in1994, was "likely to be a risk to any child he comes into contact with", yet had been housed in a council estate full of children.

In nearby Middlesbrough, the local authority has announced that it will formally exclude sex offenders from estates.

And last November headteachers at a group of primary schools in South Wales wrote to parents warning about a paedophile who moved into the area. The teachers passed on details of the man's appearance, type of car and vehicle registration number after police tipped off the local education authority.

Yesterday, the disciplinary hearing in Birmingham was adjourned until a week today. Mr Wood is accused of disclosing confidential information about George Taylor.

Following protests on the estate, Mr Taylor was moved out for his own safety last month. He had come to the estate following his release from prison in Essex. A police spokesman said: "We can confirm that Mr Taylor was recently released after serving a prison sentence for the indecent assault of a young girl."

After three weeks he was removed by police for a day for his own safety but returned 24 hours later. He spent another two days under police protection before being moved with his mother to a secret address in the city.

A residents' spokesman said: "We believe that if Mike Wood did tell residents to keep their children away from a dangerous tenant, he was doing the right thing. He should, therefore, be reinstated in his job."

Ann Fleming, spokeswoman for Birmingham's housing department, said: "In this case the man went to live with his mother, who we have an obligation to house.

"We are not told of the previous convictions of tenants under any circumstances ... There is no register we can refer to to find out whether prospective tenants have a record of sexual crimes."

But a Liberal Democrat councillor, John Hemming, who is leading the campaign to save Mr Wood's job, said: " [Mr Wood] is just being used as a scapegoat. He felt that Taylor could be a danger to children and felt that the mothers on the estate had a right to know about his criminal convictions. I don't believe Mr Wood should be in danger of losing his job as a result of what he has done."

But Jackie Craissati, head of forensic clinical psychology services for south-east London, warned that excluding paedophiles was not necessarily the best way to protect children.

"People think that child abusers are strange men in bedsits targeting kids on the street. In fact probably as much abuse goes on within the home," she said. "Children are more at risk from their own parents, brothers, uncles and grandparents than they are from strangers although I do understand the concerns."

She said that if offenders were never allowed to be rehoused the more dangerous men continued to move around. "Then it is more difficult to follow them up and they lose contact with probation officers, psychologists or any kind of supervision which makes them more likely to reoffend."

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