Offenders may escape paedophile register

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A serious flaw in the Government's proposed legislation designed to combat the problem of sex offenders obtaining jobs near children, means that many convicted paedophiles will not have to enter their names on the new police paedophile register.

This week, Parliament will begin debating the Sexual Offenders Bill, which provides for the setting up of the register. A Home Office press release spoke of the list being retrospective. Close study of the draft statute, however, reveals the register will only apply to people currently serving a prison sentence or under a supervision order when the bill becomes law.

Paedophiles who have served their sentences and are free from supervision orders will not be on the list. The relevant clause says a person becomes subject to the requirement to register if, when the bill becomes law, "he is serving a sentence of imprisonment or a term of secure detention or is subject to a community order".

No figures are available for the number of convicted paedophiles who will escape the register. Peter Thurnham, the former Conservative turned Liberal Democrat MP who will lead his new party's response to the bill, estimates that it could be thousands.

Each year, on average, sees the courts convict 3,000 people for sex offences, some of whom are paedophiles. Worryingly, says Mr Thurnham, given the hole in the proposed legislation, about half are repeat offenders: "The essence of the problem is re-offending, yet previous offenders will not be on the register."

Mr Thurnham's efforts to raise the loophole with ministers have so far met with a blank. "Really serious formerly-convicted paedophiles will not be on the register," says the MP, "and it will be decades before it becomes a meaningful document."

In place of the proposed wording, Mr Thurnham suggests that every convicted paedophile should be assessed by the authorities. Any regarded as still posing a possible danger to the public should be forced to register. That way, he says, "it would be truly retrospective".

The debate on the bill comes as the public inquiry into child abuse in children's homes in North Wales, exposed by the Independent on Sunday and Independent, enters its second week. The tribunal, chaired by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, has heard that more than 650 former residents complained of abuse. Thirty-one homes each had more than one complaint registered against them, and one, Bryn Estyn at Wrexham, attracted 138.

Claims that former residents have been motivated to make allegations by the possibility of compensation have been dismissed by their lawyers. They say that a relatively small number are seeking compensation.