Janet Street-Porter: Sex tourism blitz is just opportunist

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The Independent Online

The media circus surrounding Gary Glitter since his release from jail in Vietnam this week is not only confined to the antics of an ex-rock star pursued by reporters watching his every move. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, was obscenely quick off the mark to cash in on what probably seemed like a great PR opportunity. As Glitter was holed up in a room at Bangkok airport, refusing to board a plane home, Smith said she was planning legislation to make it harder for those on the sex offenders' register to travel abroad. A government that is as unpopular as the current one has to try and get "good" headlines wherever it can, but this was blatant opportunism.

It is important to examine our attitude to paedophiles, and to stop using Glitter as an excuse to react in a way that smacks of the Dark Ages rather than the 21st century. Ms Smith wants to increase from six months to five years the ban on child sex offenders travelling abroad. Some will be subject to a blanket ban and have their passports confiscated. She is consulting about the future validity of their passports and the issuing of new passports to convicted paedophiles.

It all sounds so reasonable, so sensible. But, if you can stop being emotional about the nature of the crime, is there any other category of prisoner in this country who, once they have served their sentence, face having their passports removed indefinitely? Ms Smith seems so determined to appear "tough" on sex tourism that she has eliminated some basic human rights in the process. Macho politics at its worst, brought to you by the same gang who want to detain terror suspects without charge for 45 days and to impose ID cards.

Banning sex offenders from travelling abroad is a soft target, like so many of new Labour's Big Ideas. This week, Philip Thompson, 27, was jailed indefinitely for keeping a computer "library" of 250,000 images of children, many in the very worst category of obscenity, at the home he shared with mum in Stockton-on-Tees.

Preventing British paedophiles from going overseas will not make much difference to their pursuit of illegal sex. And, when some foreign governments do prosecute paedophiles, they do not hand out sentences that are seen by a determined pervert as much of a deterrent.

Glitter served only 27 months in Vietnam for repeatedly abusing two girls of 10 and 11. Christopher Neil, a Canadian who posted online images of himself having sex with a dozen young Vietnamese and Cambodian boys, received only three years and three months in Thailand, although he is awaiting trial on further charges.

I loathe people who abuse children but, tonight, in quite a few bars in Thailand, young women will be firing ping-pong balls from their vaginas. I'm sure there was no career to be had out of this loathsome activity until heterosexual male tourists arrived. Of course, the girls may be over the age of consent and may not have to offer sex in order to earn a living. So that's OK, then. Sex tourism isn't confined to paedophiles, and keeping them in Britain won't limit their urges. Why can't Ms Smith be honest and say she would really like to castrate them? That would be a crowd-pleaser.

Matador Frank grabs life by the horns

We are told that 60 is the new 40, and what better example of the new attitude to ageing than the brave (and slightly potty) Frank Evans, a pensioner from Salford who returned to the Spanish bullring last weekend after a quadruple heart bypass and a titanium knee replacement.

Frank, 66, the only Briton recognised in Spain as a matador, had stopped fighting because of his knee injury in 2005, when he was carried from the ring on the shoulders of his devoted fans. Although most professional matadors retire in their 30s or 40s, Frank was determined to return, appearing at a charity event near Malaga. Bullfighting might not be your thing, but it is impossible not to admire the courage and sheer chutzpah of Frank, known as "El Ingles" to his fans. Of course, we are elated by the physical excellence of our young athletes in Beijing – but I wonder how many of them will be thrilling crowds and putting themselves at risk when they are Frank's age?

I am tired of ageing rock stars like Mick Jagger being held up as an icon for pensioners. Why not Frank? He enrolled at bullfighting school in the 1960s and had a 40-year career, dividing his time between Marbella and his bathroom fittings business in Britain. After his successful outing last weekend, he plans to continue fighting in South America, against the advice of doctors and family. Go for it!

Skeletons in the McCain family closet

John McCain's nearest and dearest are under fire for airbrushing out of sight any family members who could harm his bid for the US presidency. Wife Cindy has always called herself an only child but it has emerged that she has a half-sister, who is furious at being publicly snubbed. Cindy and John's daughter Meghan, 24, is in the doghouse too – she has written a children's book which will be published to coincide with the Republican Party convention in September. In it, Meghan describes her close family, conveniently omitting to mention that her dad was married before and had two sons by his first wife who are Meghan's half-brothers. I have some sympathy for both women – years ago I decided to airbrush some of my relatives out of my life in order to concentrate on those I could cope with. And when, at the age of 50, I married a complete dork, once I had divorced him I subsequently removed all mention of the embarassing union from my personal history.

* Coverage of the Olympics has resulted in the usual plethora of crimes against the English language by over-eager commentators but David Brailsford, performance director of the British cycling team, takes some beating when it comes to meaningless waffle. Of course he has done a brilliant job orchestrating an award-winning team, but why does he resort to management-speak of the worst kind? Explaining his technique on the radio, he said: "If you give people ownership of their performance and ownership of their lives, then they respond well." Ownership of their lives? It's more new-age babble.

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