Instant jail plan for child abusers

Sophie Goodchild,Jo Dillon
Saturday 17 August 2013 01:05

Home Secretary Jack Straw is drawing up plans to send sex offenders back to jail if they try to find work in schools, children's homes or nurseries.

He is creating a new criminal offence to bar child sex offenders from working with children, part of a wider government drive to tighten up controls. If convicted, paedophiles face extra jail sentences of up to six months.

A senior Home Office source said the new laws are necessary because of the extraordinary lengths determined paedophiles are willing to go to in order to be with children.

Police are currently investigating claims from more than 4,000 people that they suffered abuse while at private and council-run schools and care homes in Devon. The inquiry follows allegations of sexual and physical abuse made against teachers and other staff over a period of more than 30 years.

The Home Office initiative follows a North Wales children's home inquiry, which found evidence of systematic abuse perpetrated in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

But while the inquiry has also led to the announcement in Wales of a children's commissioner - with a remit to protect the rights of all children - the Health Secretary Alan Milburn has been accused of blocking plans to appoint a commissioner for England, despite overwhelming backing for the proposal from MPs and children's charities.

The Department of Health claims a commissioner would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. It is also understood to be concerned about the cost. Mr Milburn has opted instead for a director of children's rights, who will only have the power to look after the 50,000 children in care homes.

The NSPCC, which has campaigned hard on the issue, said that fell far short of what was needed to safeguard children. A charity source said: "A 'director of children's rights' is a red herring. We are fed up of it being used as an excuse. A children's commissioner is something completely different."

Labour MP Hilton Dawson is backing the campaign for a children's commissioner and believes support for the idea is building among government ministers - the stumbling block remains the Department of Health. The MP and other campaigners from all political parties are seeking meetings with ministers and it is understood that several prominent figures on the government benches will press the Labour Party to include a children's commissioner in its manifesto for the next general election.

David Hinchliffe, the Labour MP and chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee remains convinced there is a case for such an appointment: "I feel that the role of the director of children's rights is somewhat limited and the powers are somewhat reduced to what I have seen as the equivalent position abroad to a children's commissioner."

But a key aide to Mr Milburn said: "What we have proposed for England ... is a national children's rights director, which is in line with the spirit of the Waterhouse recommendations and broadly in line with what it is people want from the children's commissioner."

Meanwhile, child protection agencies and teaching unions have welcomed a Home Office plan to set up an international register of paedophiles, allowing police forces to track their movements.