'Sarah's Law' unworkable, say paedophilia experts

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The Independent Online

Sarah's law, the proposal to grant parents the right to see public lists of paedophiles, is unworkable, experts warned yesterday.

Sarah's law, the proposal to grant parents the right to see public lists of paedophiles, is unworkable, experts warned yesterday.

They feel it would not only lead to further mob attacks, but also greatly reduce the number of abusers complying with registration. The suggested legal change was prompted by public anger at the murder of Surrey schoolgirl Sarah Payne and is supported by her parents, Sara and Michael. But Home Office ministers, who yesterday said the proposals would be given "serious consideration", were told that any knee-jerk, populist legislation could do more harm than good.

Former Home Secretary Michael Howard warned that a public register of paedophiles could increase risks to children. Mr Howard backed the Government's promised review, but he urged caution, claiming similar laws in the United States led to vigilante justice which "no civilised society could tolerate".

The introduction of a public register in the US meant fewer paedophiles complied with the rules of registration. The compliance rate in Britain, where the sex offenders register is held by police, is 97 per cent, but is "very much lower" in the US, Mr Howard said.

David Niven, chief executive of Action on Child Exploitation, said he was unconvinced that Sarah's Law would work in Britain. "I'm not convinced we've got to the right level of education and understanding in the community to not have a lot of people hurt by mistake," he said. His remarks follow a week of mob attacks and threats to paedophiles and innocent men mistaken for them.

There was also the danger of rekindling damaging emotions in the children abused by a named offender. "The kids are bound to see their attacker talked about again when they're trying to recover," he said.

"It does drive people further underground. We've got the best compliance rates with the register in Western Europe and I think that would be severely challenged [by Sarah's Law]."

A Sarah's Law campaign is launched today by the News of the World - after abandoning its name and shame policy - and backed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the NSPCC, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

The paper claimed pressure for the law was "unstoppable, and that 300,000 people had already signed its petition.