Ministers and police reject new calls for Sarah's Law

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The Independent Online

Renewed calls for the introduction of a law requiring publication of the names and addresses of convicted paedophiles were rejected by the Government yesterday.

The pressure to make public details of sex offenders followed a new plea for legislation by the parents of eight-year-old Sarah Payne, whose killer, Roy Whiting, was revealed to be a convicted paedophile after his conviction for murder on Wednesday.

The Home Office said it would look instead at enacting laws to lock up indefinitely some predatory paedophiles and psychopaths. Measures to tighten the monitoring of sex offenders in the community are also to be introduced. But the reforms are not expected to become law until 2003.

After the conviction of Whiting, Sarah Payne's mother, Sara, said: "You know what I want. Sarah's Law." But the Home Office minister Beverley Hughes said yesterday that a British version of the American "Megan's Law" – under which a local community is alerted to the presence of a paedophile in its midst – would simply drive offenders underground, making them harder to monitor and treat.

She said: "The key question is: would it actually help to protect children? We're clear that it won't. It will probably make protecting children even harder for the police."

Under the government plans – which they have been pledging to introduce for more than two years – anyone convicted of an offence that carries a maximum life sentence could be forced to remain behind bars for the rest of their life if they are considered too dangerous to be released back into the community. Opponents of the idea argue that people will be punished for a crime they may not commit in the future.

The changes received fresh support after the disclosure that Whiting, 42, had served less than three years in jail for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a girl in 1995 in similar circumstances to the abduction of Sarah Payne. Whiting kidnapped Sarah on 1 July last year from a country lane while she was visiting her grandparents near Kingston Gorse in West Sussex. Her body was found 16 days later in a field. Despite the police and probation service having identified him as a high-risk offender who was likely to kill his next victim they were apparently powerless to act against him.

The News of the World caused a furore and sparked widespread criticism when it started a "name and shame" campaign after Sarah's murder in which details of sex offenders were published.

Stuart Kuttner, managing editor of the Sunday newspaper, defended the campaign yesterday and indicated that the paper did not rule out reviving it in the future. His comments coincided with the News of the World paying more than £20,000 to two of the men it incorrectly named as paedophiles last year. One man received £20,000 compensation and the other a four-figure sum in out-of-court settlements.

The newspaper abandoned its campaign after it was criticised by the police, the government, media and probation officers, and mobs started attacking suspected sex offenders. But Mr Kuttner said: "It stimulated the most enormous public debate. We, the News of the World, along with a very courageous, very determined Sara and Michael Payne have achieved something like seven-eighths of the requirements, of the demands of Sarah's Law."

He said Whiting's conviction was "a total vindication of the need for Sarah's Law". But the News of the World?s sister paper, The Sun, spoke out against reviving the campaign. In a leader column yesterday, it called instead for tougher sentencing for paedophiles.