Probation chief: Paedophile claims are total nonsense

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The Independent Online

The woman who is to be made responsible for monitoring the behaviour of 200,000 criminals every day was unveiled yesterday by the Home Office.

The woman who is to be made responsible for monitoring the behaviour of 200,000 criminals every day was unveiled yesterday by the Home Office.

The first national director of the Probation Service, Eithne Wallis, will face the public wrath if any one of thousands of killers, paedophiles and rapists commits a high-profile offence after being released from custody.

Winning public confidence will not be easy, she conceded. Ms Wallis told The Independent that many people "are not even aware of the Probation Service. They have the wrong imageand don't understand the work we do."

Her comments come as the Probation Service is under fire from a campaign in a national newspaper for failing to control predatory paedophiles. The News of the World plans to "name and shame" 110,000 sex offenders so that parents can take their own measures to protect their children. Last weekend it published pictures of 49 paedophiles.

Ms Wallis, 47 and a mother of three children, who will become the "public face" of the Probation Service on 18 September, described the newspaper's approach as "totally misleading". She said: "No one knows all the sex offenders in Britain. For the News of the World to claim it can publish a list is absolute nonsense."

Ms Wallis said the newspaper risked driving paedophiles out of the sight of probation staff. "I would certainly ask them to think again about the wisdom of what they are actually doing."

She said probation officers were working to prevent 200,000 offenders from returning to crime.

"Probation staff are not armchair philosophers. They are out there doing this difficult, demanding and sometimes dangerous work, protecting communities and preventing reoffending," she said.

She had confidence in her colleagues but admitted that she might have sleepless nights over the prospect of highprofile cases of offenders committing further crimes while under probation supervision. "I am obviously nervous, but it's a nervous excitement," she said.

Ms Wallis will take up her new £80,000-a-year post, based in the Home Office, after 20 years in the Probation Service. Born in Northern Ireland, she studied social anthropology at the University of Manchester before starting her probation career. She is the chief probation officer in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire service.

As national director she will head a restructured organisation that has done away with the 54 autonomous probation services and replaced them with a system of 43 services, which mirror the police forces in England and Wales.

Ms Wallis said she accepted that the new service needed to "up its game", and pledged that it would meet targets set by the Home Secretary to reduce reoffending by 5 per cent and to ensure that at least 90 per cent of offenders complied with their probation orders.

She said the old probation culture of "advising, assisting and befriending" offenders was being replaced by a new ethos emphasising the need to "protect the public and prevent reoffending".

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