Ministers warn over 'knee-jerk' legislation

Paulsgrove estate residents threaten to restart protest marches as Downing Street vows not to rush in new laws

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Downing Street warned against "knee-jerk" legislation on paedophiles yesterday as council officials in Portsmouth offered to rehouse about 20 people named by residents as sex offenders.

Downing Street warned against "knee-jerk" legislation on paedophiles yesterday as council officials in Portsmouth offered to rehouse about 20 people named by residents as sex offenders.

The Prime Minister's office said the Home Office was reviewing the law but ministers would not "rush into anything" after the murder last month of eight-year-old Sarah Payne.

Some of the residents of the Paulsgrove estate threatened to restart their marches because they were not fully satisfied that the council was doing enough, and they objected to actions by the police.

After a meeting between council officials and about 30 residents, Linda Redman, who has two children, said: "The council have had time, we want the paedophiles out now. We will take to the streets again."

Kim Appleton, who said her 14-year-old son had been arrested for violent disorder during the disturbances, said: "I don't think it's fair."

Barry Pettinger, 51, who led protests along with mother-of-four Katrina Kessell, 33, urged residents to give the police and council time to act before threatening to restart the demonstrations, and said he thought the meeting had been successful.

The anti-paedophile protesters, who have staged a series of demonstrations, handed over a list of some 20 alleged sex offenders to police at the weekend.

After the meeting, Hampshire Police agreed to share the names on the list with social services, and Portsmouth City Council said it would be approaching those named to offer them safe accommodation.

The acting chief executive, Roger Ching, denied that he was giving in to "mob rule" but confirmed that the list of paedophiles handed over would be used by the council.

"Police are now studying that list and will share relevant information with the city council," he said. Mr Ching said residents could add more names to the list at any stage and said a hotline number had been set up for anyone who felt children were at risk.

The Prime Minister's office welcomed the intervention at the weekend of the Tory leader, William Hague, who called for a series of new measures, including automatic life sentences for certain repeat offenders. A spokesman for the Prime Minister said suggestions by Mr Hague for tougher measures against paedophiles were along similar lines to proposals already being considered by the Home Office.

But with at least two reviews under way into various aspects of the existing law, officials have acknowledged that new legislation may be unlikely before the next general election. "It is important that we get this right, even if that takes time, rather than rush into anything and act in a knee-jerk way," the spokesman said.

One Home Office review isconsidering ways of tightening up the 1997 Sex Offenders Act, which originally established the register of convicted sex offenders. It is expected to present its initial proposals to ministers in December, followed by a public consultation in the new year.

A public consultation on a general review of sexual offences laws, which, among other measures, called for an extension of life sentences by widening the definition of rape, is due to be finished in March.

In another development, police have appealed for calm on a housing estate in Workington, Cumbria, after arsonists destroyed the home of a suspected sex offender and put the lives of neighbours at risk.

Victor Minshaw, 52, who is charged with a string of offences, was not in the house when the fire was started because he was forced out by a peaceful protest last Friday. A family of five, who lived next door to him, were forced to flee their home at the height of the blaze.

Mr Minshaw appeared before magistrates last week charged with 15 offences, including seven of rape, four of gross indecency, two of having intercourse with a girl under 13 and two of indecent assault.

He indicated not guilty pleas to all charges.


* It has been brought to The Independent's attention that Victor Minshaw was found not guilty of all charges at Carlisle Crown Court on 11 January 2001, after the prosecution offered no evidence against him. We are glad to update this article. Footnote added 3/12/15