Police to meet editor over 'naming and shaming' paedophile campaign

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The Independent Online

Executives of the News of the World have agreed to meet police and probation chiefs who have led criticism of its campaign to publish the names and photographs of paedophiles.

Executives of the News of the World have agreed to meet police and probation chiefs who have led criticism of its campaign to publish the names and photographs of paedophiles.

The newspaper denied it was giving ground last night and issued a robust statement saying that it would give an audience to its critics tomorrow but if necessary restate the objectives of its campaign.

However, an article published in yesterday's News of the World acknowledged that police chiefs and others had "valid reasons" for opposing the publication of paedophiles' names and addresses in a newspaper and said their expert opinion would be listened to.

Ahead of the meeting, requested by Tony Butler, Chief Constable of Gloucester and the police chiefs' spokesman on child protection, probation officers led a fresh attack on the newspaper by accusing it of driving sex offenders underground.

The Association of Chief Probation Officers (Acop) wrote a letter of complaint, copied to the Press Complaints Commission, claiming the "naming and shaming" of sex offenders was hindering work to supervise offenders by driving them underground. The tactic also risked identifying innocent relatives of offenders and encouraged violence, Acop said.

Although the News of the World told its readers it was not advocating vigilante attacks, Acop compiled a dossier listing cases of offenders contemplating and actually going into hiding, changing their name or appearance, and withdrawing from treatment programmes. It cites a vigilante attack in Manchester on Iain Armstrong, 49, who was mistaken for a paedophile whose photograph was published, a similar attack on a woman in Norwich and other threats of violence.

These included a warning from vigilante groups to police in the Midlands that they intended to drive sex offenders from local housing estates.

The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro) backed up the accusation by saying driving paedophiles underground was counter-productive and actually heightened the risk that they would reoffend. A Nacro spokeswoman said: "We are hoping to convince the News of the World that the way they are trying to protect children is going to do more damage than good. We hope they will back our call for longer sentences for paedophiles."

Ministers also appealed to the newspaper to heed police warnings that it was better that sex offenders remained at registered addresses where they could be monitored by officers. Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said he was "very worried" by the public naming of paedophiles although he recognised it was done with the "noble motive" of protecting children.

He said: "I fear this is not the right way to go about doing it and I think it would be wise for the News of the World to listen very carefully to the advice of the police on this matter."

Paul Boateng, a Home Office minister, also warned against creating a "climate of fear" and emphasised the need to avoid "panic and hysteria".

The News of the World yesterday shifted the focus of its campaign by launching a petition calling for a legal right to know the name and address of sex offenders living in a local community, plus full life sentences for a second serious child sex offence. It called the right "Sarah's Law", after Sarah Payne, the eight-year-old girl abducted and murdered in Sussex.

The principle is based on "Megan's Law", introduced in the United States after the murder of a girl, Megan Lanka, by a paedophile in 1994. It forces sex offenders to go on a register to which the community has access.

Rebekah Wade, the editor of the News of the World, will attend tomorrow's meeting with her campaign's critics but public statements about the "summit" were attributed to an anonymous spokesman.

The News of the World statement said: "We are ready and very willing to meet these important organisations. We will of course listen with the greatest care to everything they have to say. We will clearly explain our position and restate if necessary our defined objectives."

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