Sara Payne may sit on paedophile panel

The Home Office opened the way yesterday for the mother of the murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne to apply for a direct role in monitoring dangerous paedophiles and other serious offenders.

The Government announced that for the first time members of the public will be allowed to sit on specialist panels managing sex offenders and other criminals following their release from prison.

The Home Office minister Hilary Benn said Surrey, where Sarah's parents, Sara and Michael live, would be one of the first five areas to pilot the idea of having lay members on the committees. The others are Cumbria, Durham, south Wales and the West Midlands.

Mrs Payne has said: "I'm definitely going to apply. If they saw my face over the table they might think twice before they placed a paedophile next door to a child."

The Paynes have campaigned for a "Sarah's Law", which would allow public access to the Sex Offenders' Register, since their daughter was killed in July 2000 by the paedophile Roy Whiting.

The involvement of the public on the Multi-Agency Public Protection Panels (Mappps) goes only part of the way towards a Sarah's Law, although the idea, first reported in The Independent last week, is welcomed by the Paynes.

Lay members of Mappps will sit alongside professionals from the Probation Service, social services and police. They will not be given the identities or the exact whereabouts of offenders in their areas but will play a role in overseeing the work of the rest of the panel and conveying the concerns of other members of the public.

They will be given some details of a sex offender's criminal record, the circumstances in which they are living and the risk of reoffending.

The Home Office said the lay members of the panels will not be paid and will need no qualifications but will have to show "an interest in community and social issues".

Mr Benn, said: "We all want to make our communities safe places to live in for ourselves and our loved ones. Managing the risk posed by potentially dangerous offenders in our communities is a key part of achieving this."

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the probation union Napo, said: "There need to be safeguards to ensure the lay people have a full understanding of the process and that there aren't any breaches of confidentiality."