Neighbours may get right to paedophile checks

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The Independent Online

People will be given the right to seek information about paedophiles living in their neighbourhoods under Home Office proposals released yesterday.

Householders will be able to ask police about suspicious neighbours and single parents would be able to ask about a new partner's pervious sexual offences under the scheme to open up information about sex offenders.

But the Home Office stopped short of proposing a US-style "Megan's law" and allowing widespread publication of information about child-sex offenders.

They insisted that the public would have no right to receive information about offenders and police would have full discretion over information released.

A consultation document released by the Home Office yesterday instead floats compromise proposals for a "two-day approach to disclosure". Police and other authorities would have to consider requests for details about offenders and give an explanation if they refuse to release information.

The document said: "Disclosure should be considered on a case-by-case basis, but as a general rule the greater the risk of harm to the public, the more likely offender information should be disclosed in order to protect the public."

It added: "Research studies show that between 75 per cent and 90 per cent of child-sex offenders are known to the victim. It is therefore important to highlight that stranger attacks are rare and work on public awareness campaigns must equip people to deal with all the potential sources of sexual abuse."

It added: "We need to be more transparent with the public about how child-sex offenders are managed. By changing the culture of information-sharing we will better inform, reassure and equip the public with the knowledge needed to protect the public."

A Home Office spokesman said: "If you have concerns about someone and are a parent or carer, you could find out from a trusted, credible third party such as the police whether your concerns were justified or not. "For example, you could say, 'I am concerned about the people who have moved in opposite me - can you tell me if they have convictions for child-sex offences?'

"At this stage we are not sure how that might work - that is what we are looking at in this next stage."

The reforms would apply to England and Wales but officials are liaising with Scotland and Northern Ireland about the changes.

The Home Office minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, has made several trips to the United States to examine the operation of Megan's law, which was named in memory of seven-year-old Megan Kanka, who was raped and murdered by a paedophile in 1994.

The murder of the eight-year-old schoolgirl Sarah Payne in July 2000 sparked a nationwide campaign a similar "Sarah's law".

Michele Elliott of the children's charity Kidscape, said: "We don't think Megan's law would translate well into the UK and this seems to be a good first step to getting a UK-based community notification programme going."