Sara Payne hails rollout of protection scheme

The mother of schoolgirl Sarah Payne today applauded the introduction of a scheme that seeks to protect children from paedophiles in the county where her daughter was killed 10 years ago.

Sara Payne said she looked forward to the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, popularly known as Sarah's Law, being rolled out nationwide.

Sussex Police today became one of more than 20 police forces to introduce the initiative, which allows parents to ask police if someone with contact with their children is a convicted paedophile.

Child protection campaigner Ms Payne said: "We welcome Sussex on board and hope that they find this to be another welcome tool in the child protection box.

"We look forward to Sarah's Law being national and then it won't matter where you live, you will be able to have access to the scheme."

A year-long trial of the initiative began in September 2008 involving four police forces: Cambridgeshire, Cleveland, Hampshire and Warwickshire.

Sussex is one of the first forces to be part of the initial rollout and it is expected that every force in England and Wales will operate the scheme by the end of next March.

It is a watered-down version of laws in the United States under which details of where convicted paedophiles live are actively publicised.

Ms Payne, whose eight-year-old daughter was found in a field near Pulborough, West Sussex, after she was killed by convicted paedophile Roy Whiting in July 2000, led a high-profile campaign calling for a British equivalent.

Under the Home Office scheme, parents can ask police about anyone with access to their children and officers will reveal details confidentially if they think it is in the child's interests.

Police may also warn parents if concerns are raised by grandparents or neighbours.

Sussex Police assistant chief constable Olivia Pinkney said: "This will further enhance and support the child safeguarding and public protection procedures currently in place within the county.

"Training has already been undertaken by all police officers and staff who will be involved in the process and will take all steps to ensure that any information disclosed will only be used to protect those identified children and not inappropriately used."

It was disclosed earlier this year that one in 10 calls to police under the pilot scheme uncovered the hidden criminal past of someone with access to a child.

It was predicted that many of the requests for information would come from women concerned about the history of their new partners.

But police found nearly one in five applications was from parents asking about a new lover in their former partner's life.

Neighbours, other family members and friends were the other main subjects of inquiries. The forces involved in the pilot were not deluged with requests, as was feared.

Worries that paedophiles would disappear underground en masse and that the revelations would result in vigilante justice were also not realised, police said.

A total of 315 applications for information were made to the four forces.

From those details, 21 paedophiles were revealed and details of 11 individuals with different criminal pasts, such as violence, were also divulged.

An academic study into the results of the pilots said they strengthened existing controls on sex offenders.

In one case a neighbour giving sweets to youngsters was found to be a paedophile. He was arrested for breaching a court order which barred him from contact with children.

As well as in Sussex, the scheme is also being rolled out this autumn in Northamptonshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Wiltshire, Cheshire, Durham, Northumbria, Dorset, Lincolnshire, Surrey and Gloucestershire.

It is already running in West Mercia, Bedfordshire, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Thames Valley, West Midlands, Essex and Suffolk, and still operating in the pilot areas.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: "The roll-out of this scheme to a further 11 forces is an important step forward for child protection in this country and will mean even more children are protected from potential harm.

"These checks provide reassurance to parents, carers and the wider community and also assist the police in managing known sex offenders living in the community more effectively."

NSPCC spokesman Jon Brown said: "We welcome the success of the current disclosure pilots in helping to protect children from abuse.

"However, as this scheme rolls out across England and Wales, we urge the Home Office to continue assessing the impact on different communities.

"It must also be remembered that only a minority of child sex offenders have criminal records and are known to police.

"It is vital that communities know when and how to act if they are concerned about the safety of a child.

"If anyone is unsure whether they should contact the police about their concerns, they can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 for advice."

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