Number of registered sex offenders rises 16% in a year

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The number of registered sex offenders being tracked in the community has risen by 16 per cent in a year to more than 20,000, Home Office figures disclosed yesterday.

The statistics also revealed a national divide, with some northern English counties keeping tabs on twice as many sex attackers as those in the south.

The 21,413 sex offenders are among 52,809 dangerous criminals who are now being monitored by police and probation officers. This represents an increase of 12 per cent on last year for the total number of criminals being monitored. Ministers said the rises had been expected as violent offenders remained on probation service books for at least a year, or for five years in the case of sex criminals.

According to the figures for 2002-03, the areas with the highest number of registered sex offenders per 100,000 of population was Humberside with 62, followed by Nottinghamshire (59), West Yorkshire (58) and Teesside (54).

Districts with the lowest numbers are Hertfordshire (21), Surrey and Thames Valley (both 26) and Essex (27). The average for England and Wales was 40, compared with 35 the previous year.

Peter Wright, Assistant Chief Officer with the National Probation Service in Humberside, said he could not explain the apparent disparity between north and south.

"There's no evidence of Humberside importing sex offenders from outside the area," he said. "We work with what we have got. Until there is more research on why there is this emerging profile, it is conjecture."

A Home Office spokesman said: "Overall, you are still talking about very small numbers of the population. As with any population characteristics, you are going to have some variation." The system for supervising violent and sexual offenders after their release, multi-agency public protection panels (MAPPPS), was set up two years ago.

Police and probation officers work with other agencies such as health, housing and social services to monitor offenders.

The panels were set up in part to forestall vigilante attacks against suspected paedophiles. Eight of the 42 panels include members of the public. Public involvement is to be extended to the remaining 34. Over the past year, 45 of the most serious offenders being monitored committed, or were planning to commit a further offence, 17 of which were paedophile crimes.

In one case, surveillance uncovered a paedophile preparing to abduct a child. He was then charged with intent to rape a child and jailed for 13 years. Another 468 people were jailed without committing a further offence because police or probation officers were concerned at their behaviour.

Eithne Wallace, director general of the National Probation Service, said: "This is evidence of these arrangements biting and working. They were taken back to jail because they had breached a condition of their licence, or in some cases were going to places that had us on the alert because it was an indication of them going back to their old ways.

"The 468 who were imprisoned again shows that we are nipping this in the bud."

Paul Goggins, a Home Office minister, said: "We can never eliminate the risks posed by dangerous offenders, but we can do a huge amount to minimise them and protect our communities.

"As a society, we have to face up to the fact that there are dangerous offenders in all our communities and manage the risks they pose."