Police warning on sex offenders

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Police chiefs are opposing moves to alert neighbours of the presence of sex offenders in their community despite attempts by Labour, and possibly the Government, to introduce new anti-paedophile laws.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has warned Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, that telling communities that a sex criminal has moved into the neighbourhood would be counter-productive and place children at greater risk. Opposition by chief officers would be a stumbling block to any new legislation.

Mr Howard told a conference last Tuesday that he was considering introducing community notification of paedophiles. Labour has already tabled an amendment to the Sex Offenders Bill calling for the controlled disclosure of names and addresses of convicted sex offenders to child-protection workers, schools and in some cases members of the public.

But following a survey of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, chief constables have come out against greater disclosure. They say that warning neighbours will merely drive sex offenders underground and could lead to vigilante action. The have also stressed that the police already warn probation officers and the social services and carry out surveillance operations on offenders considered dangerous.

Tony Butler, Chief Constable of Gloucestershire and ACPO spokesman on children-protection and sex-offender issues, said: "What is the point of telling residents? This could lead to picketing of homes or houses being burnt down. Sex offenders are some of the most devious individuals who will not sit around if they are identified. They will change their names and identity. I would rather know where these people are so that the police can keep track of them."

A Bill now going through Parliament sets up a national register of sex offenders, enabling the police to track the movements of convicted paedophiles and rapists.