At last, Mr Straw has taken a sensible approach to paedophile protection

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Jack Straw may not be the great reforming liberal home secretary that this country so desperately needs, but he does at least deserve some credit for resisting the worst instincts of both the public and the tabloid press when it comes to the control of paedophiles.

Jack Straw may not be the great reforming liberal home secretary that this country so desperately needs, but he does at least deserve some credit for resisting the worst instincts of both the public and the tabloid press when it comes to the control of paedophiles.

This is not simply because we elect governments - rather than tabloid editors or street gangs - to make laws, but also because Mr Straw's sensible proposals will work. Or, at least, they have a greater chance of succeeding than does "Sarah's Law", the British adaptation of the American Megan's Law, which has proved largely ineffective. The fact that ministers choose to describe their proposals as Sarah's Law should not mislead us into believing that they bear any resemblance to the free-for-all demanded by the Sarah's Law campaigners.

We know what would happen if the tabloid version of Sarah's Law were implemented, with a right of unrestricted public access to the names and addresses of sex offenders: mob rule. As with the demonstrations earlier this summer, disgracefully instigated and encouraged by the News of the World's "naming and shaming" stunt, innocent people would be attacked, while real offenders would go to ground or even be set free by the courts. The dangers of allowing law enforcement to be carried out by those who mistake paediatricians for paedophiles are obvious.

There are dangers, equally, in ignoring the real fears generated by a tiny number of (largely unknown) paedophiles intent on abducting children. Had the Home Secretary submitted to the demands of parts of the press, he would have been rewarded with favourable headlines and warm editorials in newspapers that New Labour still likes to keep "on side", but he would have put innocent lives at risk.

No one should doubt that the first duty of government is to protect its citizens, and especially the most vulnerable ones. There have clearly been cases in which predatory paedophiles - persistent offenders - have been released and gone on to commit the most appalling and cruel of crimes against children. That cannot be tolerated, and the new indefinite sentences for such cases should go some way to dealing with this problem. The most intractable issue will always be that of how to assess the risk of re-offending, without excessive damage to the principle that no one should be locked up on the basis of crimes they have not yet committed.

Then there are the potential offenders for whom indefinite custody simply cannot be justified - whose activities may, for example, be confined to collecting child pornography. The risk of their committing a serious offence may be extremely low, but it cannot be ruled out.

In such cases the Government is right to place a statutory duty on the probation service to ask victims or their families if they want to be consulted on the release arrangements for sex offenders who have served their sentences. The tightening-up of the Sex Offenders Register and the new Sex Offender Restraining Order are also sensible measures. Controlled disclosure should be at the discretion of the police and the probation services, who are surely the best placed to deal with the circumstances of each case.

There are welcome signs that the Sarah's Law campaigners will use Mr Straw's new measures as a cover for abandoning their campaign, which has been a threat to innocent life and limb. As for Mr Straw, perhaps he has been steeled by his experiences of trying to resist mob rule during the fuel protests last week. In any case, this time he has done the right thing.

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