Laws over sex offenders to change after suspect kills boy while on bail

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The Independent Online

His pledge came after it emerged Simon Harris, 37, was awaiting trial on sex abuse charges when he is suspected of killing the 11-year-old. Harris, who is thought to have hanged himself, was released on bail after appearing in court earlier this year accused of abusing three young girls.

Harris was found dead by detectives on Sunday after he was identified by members of the public responding to calls for information on a mystery man seen in the woods where the 11-year-old boy's asphyxiated body was discovered.

It was only after officers raided Harris' run-down terraced council home in Livingston, near Edinburgh, that it emerged the 37-year-old was wanted for failing to attend Linlithgow Sheriff Court on sex abuse charges against three young girls.

Harris, who lived just a mile from where Rory was abducted, had been on bail since February awaiting trial on 11 offences of abusing three girls over a seven-year period between 1993 and 2000. He had been due to attend court on the day after Rory's body was discovered but failed to turn up and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

A delay in the legal process meant Lothian and Borders police were not told that he was wanted. As Harris had never been convicted of an offence he was not on the list of sex offenders investigated by police immediately after Rory disappeared.

Forensic experts continued to search the house in Camps Rigg yesterday for clues but refused to confirm reports that detectives found a suicide note beside Harris' body which mentioned Rory or that the boy's schoolbag and stash of child pornography had been found inside.

Mr McConnell said yesterday he had "no doubt whatsoever" that a number of measures, including time taken to issue warrants and the bail system, would be looked at in the wake of the case. His comments came after opposition politicians demanded to know why someone on serious charges against children was granted bail in the first place. "This is a perennial battle between the rights of individuals and the presumption of innocence and the need to safeguard children," said Kenny MacAskill, the SNP justice spokesman.

"In terms of serious offences, where a charge is made, the person should be remanded pending trial.

"Should the balance of justice not swing in terms of protecting the public?"

Annabel Goldie, the Tories' home affairs spokeswoman, said bail is too easily available in Scotland. In a letter yesterday to the Lord Advocate, Scotland's senior law officer, she said since human rights legislation was "adopted wholesale" there was now a presumption in favour of bail where once public safety carried more weight. She said: "If the law-abiding majority is to be reassured as to its safety... surely the current bail system has to be reviewed as a matter of urgency."