New laws may fall short of campaign goal but they should help to protect children

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The Independent Online

While the Sarah Payne campaign to "name and shame" paedophiles may have failed after yesterday's announcement by Jack Straw, it has helped to mould a new set of laws that should help prevent future tragedies and protect child victims from further trauma.

While the Sarah Payne campaign to "name and shame" paedophiles may have failed after yesterday's announcement by Jack Straw, it has helped to mould a new set of laws that should help prevent future tragedies and protect child victims from further trauma.

One of the most striking proposals is a new power to allow judges to ban a sex offender from contacting his victim for life. Failure to abide by the order could result in up to five years in jail.

Other planned changes to the law include taking the fingerprints and photographs of convicted sex criminals after they are released from jail, and longer sentences for offenders who fail to register with the police. The fresh series of proposals, which the Home Office hopes to make law by November, are partly in response to the public outcry, inflamed by the News of the World's "name and shame" campaign, that followed the murder of Sarah Payne, eight, in July.

But, despite the tough measures, Mr Straw, the Home Secretary, has stood firm against the Sunday newspaper's main demand that he provide greater public access to the details of the 10,000 names and addresses on the Sex Offenders Register in England and Wales.

Instead, his department and the police have promised to provide basic details about what measures are being taken against sex offenders and their distribution throughout the country. This will include revealing how many paedophiles live in each police force area and how many schools, neighbours and communities have been issued warnings about the whereabouts of offenders. Victims will also be consulted on the arrangements and movements of offenders sentenced to more than 12 months, although they will not be told where they are living.

The aim is to provide the public with greater reassurance, provoke a more open and rational debate about the issue, and make the police and probation service more accountable. Notwithstanding the Home Office's gloss - notably in calling the measure's "Sarah's Law" - the changes are unlikely to lead to any more people being warned about the existence of dangerous sex offenders. The final decision on whether school heads, youth group leaders, local authorities, or communities are told that a convicted sex offender has moved into their neighbourhood or is seeking work there will remain, as it currently does, with the police and probation service.

A new "statutory duty" will be placed on the police and probation services to publish details of how they assess and manage sex offenders. Although this will help to standardise practice among the 43 forces in England and Wales, it is little more than a formal policy statement.

The Home Secretary said he carefully considered giving greater details of the existence of paedophiles, but strong lobbying from the police and probation service, reinforced by a spate of vigilante attacks, some against innocent people mistakenly identified as offenders, persuaded Mr Straw to maintain the present system.

Stung by the scale of the public reaction to Sarah Payne's abduction and murder in Sussex, the Government was desperate to be seen to be taking tough action, but conscious it should not be panicked into introducing measures that would aid further vigilante attacks and do little to protect children.

Mr Straw's refusal to be forced into releasing names of paedophiles to the public appeared to have widespread support. Sarah Payne's parents said they supported the proposals. They were also welcomed by the NSPCC, chief constables, the Liberal Democrats and theprobation service.

The News of the World said it was going to continue its campaign, but the paper seems unlikely to restart its "name and shame" tactics.

The most substantial changes are the introduction of new laws and tougher penalties aimed at offering greater protection for children.

Judges are to get a new power - a Sex Offender Restraining Order - to ban a sex offender from "approaching" his victim with a punishment of up to five years' imprisonment. This is aimed at preventing victims, such as children, or women who have been raped, from being confronted by their assailant in the street.

Individuals on the sex offenders register could also be imprisoned for up to five years if they travel abroad without telling the authorities. This measure is aimed at stopping convicted sex offenders from seeking children for sex in foreign countries.

In future, released sex offenders will only be given 72 hours to register their names and addresses with the police, who will be given powers to take fresh photographs and fingerprints. The maximum penalty for delaying registration will be increased from six months to five years. About 200 offenders who have been released from jail have failed to get in touch with the authorities.

All these measures are to be put in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill currently going through Parliament.

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