Nearly three-quarters of sex offenders removed from register by asking police

System changed in 2011 after two convicts claimed being kept on list indefinitely infringed on human rights

Matt Drake
Friday 03 January 2020 17:41 GMT
Nearly three-quarters of sex offenders removed from register by asking police

Nearly three-quarters of sex offenders on the official register have been allowed to “remove themselves” from the list by asking police, according to reports.

A Freedom of Information request by The Daily Mail revealed the majority of appeals by offenders to be removed from the sexual offenders register are approved.

The request, which covers 36 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales, shows only 363 of the 1,288 requests by offenders were denied by police between 2016 and 2018.

This means 72 per cent of applicants, including those jailed for raping young girls and distributing child pornography, were successful, according to the paper.

But chief constable Michelle Skeer, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said the data represents a small number of registered sex offenders managed in the community.

According to The Daily Mail, Merseyside Police had a near 100 per cent approval rate, with only one of the 39 applications made to the force refused.

In response, the force said applications were most likely to come from those who had been fully compliant with their registration requirements.

Detective Superintendent Sue Coombs from Protecting Vulnerable People told The Independent: “Anyone who applies to be removed from the sex offenders register must have been on it for at least 15 years following initial notification on release from custody for the relevant offence. This is due to a change in national procedure.

“We take this issue very seriously and the application to have a name removed is not granted simply because it has been made.

“We have a robust review system which involves checking a range of offender management systems on Merseyside and nationwide to ensure that the individual concerned has a been compliant with the terms of the registration requirements and are assessed as no longer posing a risk to the public.

“In 2018 we rejected one application (out of 13 made). This year to date we have had 18 applications. Of those one has been rejected, one has been withdrawn and two are still under consideration.

“In practice applications are received only from individuals who have been fully compliant with their registration requirements and have not come to police attention for many years, rather than from individuals who do not meet that standard.”

After someone is convicted or cautioned in relation to a sexual offence, they are added to the sex offenders register meaning they are required to notify police of their name, date of birth and home address.

Offenders must also notify officers of any intended travel and at least once a year confirm their details are still correct by visiting a police station.

When considering an application for removal from the list, officers look at a number of factors, including the seriousness of the offence, how long ago it was committed, the difference in age between the perpetrator and victim and any subsequent convictions.

The system was changed in 2011 after two sex offenders claimed it was unfair to be kept on the register indefinitely as it infringed on their human rights. As a result, offenders placed indefinitely on the register can apply to be taken off after 15 years.

According to the College of Policing, the UK has “some of the toughest powers in the world to manage registered sex offenders with low levels of reoffending”.

But Emily Konstantas, CEO of The Safeguarding Alliance, said she only partly agreed with the statement as the system is built around the “honesty” of the sexual offenders themselves.

Speaking to The Independent, she said: “In theory the management of the sex offender register works very well, but in practice the system heavily relies on the honesty of the sex offender to tell the truth when reporting their circumstances.

“Unfortunately this leaves a grey area in the system that allows a sex offender if they wish to manipulate and dictate their own outcome. This coupled with the lack of current policing resources and often fragmented communication between all agencies, leaves a system not fit for purpose.

“If we are to have a register that truly protects our most vulnerable members of society there cannot be room for error. As it stands we do not feel that current policy relating to the management of sex offenders represents the practice that is being undertaken.”

Ms Konstantas added that often survivors feel the sex offenders register is “the only small piece of security they feel they have” and knowing their attacker has been removed from the register could make them “relive” the trauma.

She continued: “After speaking with a number of survivors their immediate concern is once a sex offender has successfully applied to be removed from the register, they feel that no authority is monitoring them and this leaves them free to re-offend. This leaves not only all previous survivors open to immediate risk, but also places risk to others in the community.

“One survivor told us the register remains the only small piece of security they feel they have. Knowing that an offender has successfully applied to be removed from the register makes them relive the trauma of the offence over again.

“When a sex offender is placed indefinitely on the register, allowing their removal undermines the rights of the survivors, and many of those survivors feel this another injustice in an unequal justice system which clearly seems waited towards the offender.

“A survivor explained that speaking out about her abuse took courage and personal resilience this would be severely damaged if her offender who was placed on the register indefinitely was allowed to be removed. It would crush her confidence, self-esteem and belief in the justice system. It would cause her to spiral into an acute state of mental illness reliving the trauma all over again.

“Sex offenders can be extremely manipulative and deviant individuals who rely on the fear and vulnerability of their victims. If they were allowed to walk free from being adequately monitored this could place survivors in extremely vulnerable situations, living in perpetual fear knowing that the offender could return, harass and ultimately re-abuse them.”

Rebecca Hitchen, Campaigns Manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: “It defies logic that this current system appears to rely on perpetrators of sexual offences identifying their own risk. Especially given that perpetrators are often highly manipulative and skilled at deceiving others and appearing ‘safe’.

“This process demands better scrutiny to ensure that the very few offenders who are convicted are then properly monitored, and removed from the sex offenders register only where appropriate after robust consideration.

“We need more research, more consultation with experts on sexual offending and risk and much better knowledge as well as proper resourcing to make our criminal justice system work for the victims and society it serves.”

Ms Skeer, lead for the management of sexual offenders and violent offenders, said: “Managing the potential risk posed by registered sexual offenders within the community is a complex area of work for police.

“As of March 2019 there were 60,294 registered sexual offenders managed in the community.

“The numbers obtained through the Freedom of Information request represent less than two per cent of that total being removed from their notification requirements.

“Applications for registered sexual offenders to be removed from their notification requirements are the subject of careful scrutiny by police.

“Each application is thoroughly assessed and decided upon by a senior officer of Detective Superintendent rank working to the Home Office‘s legislative framework and guidance.

“UK policing has some of the most advanced and stringent tools in the world to manage registered sex offenders and I am confident that forces across the country are, each day, effectively managing risk posed to the public by such individuals.”

Detective Superintendent Jo Hall from Devon and Cornwall Police Public Protection Unit said: “Applications of this nature are managed by our Management of Sexual or Violent Offenders teams, based across our force area.

“These are specially trained officers who manage dangerous and sex offenders. There is clear guidance set out that outlines what is required of police and of the subject. In certain circumstances, an application can be submitted via an offender manager asking for reporting requirements to be removed from a subject.

“Each application is taken extremely seriously and is reviewed thoroughly before a decision is made whether to remove or retain the reporting requirements of the subject.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK has some of the toughest powers in the world to deal with sex offenders and the government is committed to keeping the public safe.

“The government is committed to making sure violent and sexual offenders spend longer behind bars, which is why it is recruiting 20,000 more police offices and creating extra prison places.

“The Home Office has provided guidance to police forces to bolster the expertise of senior police officers, who decide whether someone is suitable to be removed from the sex offenders register.”

The Independent has contacted Greater Manchester Police as well as Devon and Cornwall Police for comment but they have not responded.

Additional reporting by agencies

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