Straw refuses to allow public access to sex offender register

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The Independent Online

The controversial campaign to allow the public access to the names and addresses of paedophiles was rejected yesterday by the Home Secretary.

The controversial campaign to allow the public access to the names and addresses of paedophiles was rejected yesterday by the Home Secretary.

Jack Straw said publishing details of sex offenders would be "impossible to enforce" safely and would not offer any extra protection for children or communities. He proposed instead to reveal the number of sex offenders living in various areas and to impose tough new restrictions on paedophiles, including a life ban on offenders contacting victims.

Mr Straw's initiative comes in response to the wave of public anger unleashed by the abduction and murder of Sarah Payne, aged eight, in West Sussex, in July. Sarah's murder provoked a widely criticised campaign by the News of the World in which the names and addresses of convicted paedophiles were published. Vigilante mobs responded by firebombing homes, often of innocent people, and forcing paedophiles to go into hiding.

Mr Straw published proposals yesterday for chief constables to issue details of how many child-sex offenders were living in their force area, whether they were high or low risk, and what warnings had been issued to schools, communities, and local authorities. The information would be published on the internet and possibly at police stations.

The police and probation services will also have a duty of care placed on them to set up and publish national standards for assessing and managing dangerous paedophiles.

Victims and their families will be given greater say in how serious sex offenders are dealt with after their release. Crucially, however, the names and addresses on the Sex Offenders' Register will not be open to the public. The police and probation services will, as now, decide who, if anyone, should be warned about a sex offender.

Mr Straw said: "I have considered very closely the question whether there could be some form of controlled access to the sex offenders register. But in practice controlling such access would be impossible to enforce ... Such an arrangement would not in our judgement assist the protection of children or public safety." Paul Boateng, a Home Office minister, added: "As we have said from the word go, it's a matter for police and probation."

Sarah Payne's mother, Sara, described the proposals as "a very good start". But she said she and her husband, Michael, still believed there should be limited access to the register. "I don't believe every parent in Britain is a raving lunatic that wants to go around beating people up," she said.

Stuart Kuttner, managing editor of the News of the World, said the announcement "falls short of the central key core objective of Sarah's Law". He added that the newspaper did not rule out publishing more photographs, names and addresses of paedophiles.

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