Police defend sex offender monitoring as 300 remain missing

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The Independent Online

Police insisted today they are doing all they can to monitor sex offenders as it was revealed more than 300 are missing in the UK.

The Sun newspaper asked every force in Britain how many registered sex offenders were missing in their area.

Forty-six forces out of 52 replied at the time of going to print, and in total the whereabouts of 316 sex offenders were unknown.

These included 128 in London, 30 in the West Midlands and 15 in Greater Manchester.

A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said: "The safety and protection of the public is paramount at all times when dealing with sex offenders.

"We take this matter extremely seriously and officers are proactively following lines of inquiry in order to trace these offenders to ensure that they are dealt with robustly for having breached the terms of their conditions."

Superintendent Bob Mills, from the West Midlands Police Public Protection Unit, said officers were working "continuously" to find those missing.

He said that task "has to take place in a controlled and covert way to reduce the risk of the offender going further off the radar".

Supt Mills added: "Our strategy for finding these offenders is regularly reviewed and also considers the potential for the victim becoming a target of retribution.

"Their names, pictures and any new intelligence are circulated on the Police National Computer and to all forces and law enforcement agencies."

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Riddick, from Greater Manchester Police, said the number of missing offenders, 15, is less than 1% of the total number of registered sex offenders in the area.

He said: "None of those that are currently missing are classed as very high risk.

"Protecting people is our priority and through the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (Mappa), all serious offenders are rigorously managed and monitored by specially trained staff.

"We know the impact these offences can have on victims and families and that is why Mappa in Greater Manchester is so important to us."

Kent reported that there were 14 people on the sex offenders register who had gone missing, while in Sussex there were 11, and Humberside and South Yorkshire have eight missing each.

Each police force has arrangements with agencies including the local probation and prison services under Mappa to monitor those convicted of sex crimes.

Head of Kent Police's public protection unit Detective Superintendent Maria Shepherd said: "Kent Police holds public protection at the heart of its business. Our joint police and probation public protection team operates as a centre of excellence working closely with our Mappa partners.

"Protecting the people of Kent is our priority. We work with our partners to use all the resources available to us in order to best manage violent and sex offenders in Kent, helping to keep our communities safe. We will also work closely with other forces, in the UK and abroad, to ensure the law is upheld."

Sussex Police said that as of March 1 this year, 10 out of nearly 1,000 registered sex offenders were missing.

A spokesman said that a "considerable amount of time and effort" is taken trying to trace them.

He said: "It is not national practice to routinely publicise personal details or photos of missing sex offenders. The need for publicity has to be considered against the relative risk each may or may not present.

"Most missing offenders are at the least serious end of the scale of previous offending and are traced, or return, within a short time without any evidence emerging that they have further offended meanwhile.

"Routine publicity could also over time have the effect of dulling public alertness to the rare cases in which there is serious risk.

"However each case is dealt with individually and if we felt an individual offender was likely to cause actual or immediate harm to the public we would most certainly consider publicity."

The 10 forces with the highest numbers of missing sex offenders, out of the 46 that replied, were:

Metropolitan Police 128

West Midlands 30

Greater Manchester 15

Kent 14

Sussex 11

Humberside 8

South Yorkshire 8

Leicestershire 7

Tayside 7

Thames Valley 7