New law to prevent disclosure of registered paedophiles

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The Independent Online

Head teachers, community leaders and youth workers who make public confidential information about sex offenders could be jailed or fined under proposals being considered by the Home Office and the police.

Head teachers, community leaders and youth workers who make public confidential information about sex offenders could be jailed or fined under proposals being considered by the Home Office and the police.

Chief constables and ministers will examine plans to make it a criminal offence for members of the public to disclose information on convicted paedophiles and other criminals on the Sex Offenders Register.

The idea, which will be included in a continuing review of the register, would increase the number of people - possibly to include selected families - who are allowed access to the names and addresses of the 12,000 convicted sex offenders on the police database.

At the moment, the police and probation services inform social service departments, youth leaders and school heads about the existence of people on the register if they believe the criminal poses a serious threat to the community.

The Home Office set up a review of the register because of the public outcry provoked by the News of the World's "naming and shaming" campaign, which was stopped when it led to rioting on a housing estate in Portsmouth and a series of vigilante attacks on suspected paedophiles, many of whom had no criminal record.

The Sunday newspaper's decision to publish the names and addresses of convicted sex offenders showed how quickly the details of suspects could be circulated within a community and lead to mob attacks.

The Association of Chief Police Officers is in favour of making the disclosure of details on the register a criminal offence. A spokesman said: "This is one of the points we will discuss with the Home Office. It's very much on the agenda.

"If community leaders or representatives make unauthorised disclosures to third parties there would have to be some sanctions." He said details of the proposals were expected to be discussed more fully at meetings with Home Office officials next month.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is aware of the idea, which is among several proposals to tighten the law on paedophiles that have been put to him since he returned from holiday last week.

Ministers have privately made it clear they are not prepared to introduce changes on the register without the full backing of the police.

Among the other ideas being considered by the Home Office's working party is a reduction in the time a convicted sex offender must register with the police, from the present 14 days to 48 hours, or even 24 hours. This is a response to fears that paedophiles have a fortnight of anonymity in which they could reoffend.

The working group, set up in June, is consulting the police and child welfare groups about the changes. It will publish a report in December, to be followed by a period of public consultation, before any legislation is published.