Parents will from today be able to ask police whether anyone who has access to their child is a convicted paedophile or is even suspected of abusing children.
Police will pass on details of any relevant criminal convictions and may include “soft intelligence” detailing unproven complaints of abuse, even where there was no finding of guilt.
But parents will face civil court action or even criminal charges for inciting violence if they gossip about the findings or pass on the restricted material to other parents whose children could be at risk.
The measures are aimed at parents who are worried about those who spend time with their children, such as neighbours or sports coaches, or single mothers anxious to know more about a new boyfriend’s background.
The initiative, which starts today in four pilot areas across England, was drawn up by the Home Office in response to demands for Sarah’s Law to make available more information on known paedophiles, following the murder of Sarah Payne by convicted sex offender Roy Whiting.
Twelve-month trials are being held in Peterborough, Southampton, Stockton in Cleveland and across Warwickshire, and the measures will be extended across England and Wales if judged a success.
The Home Office said police would also deal with inquiries about under-18s to cover babysitters for example. They said ˜special considerations” would apply in such cases, but could give no details.
If the checks uncover paedophile convictions, the scheme sets out an assumptions that parents should be informed.
But police and child protection agencies will have more discretion about past complaints which did not lead to a successful prosecution, or of past convictions for non-sexual crimes such as child neglect or domestic violence.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith claimed the scheme was a ˜huge step forward which would empower worried parents to protect-their children better.
But campaigner Donald Findlater, of child protection charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, said: ˜The biggest risk to children is not from the registered sex offender who the police know and are managing.
˜It is from the sex offender who is not registered and who no one knows about.
˜There are probably ten of these unknown individuals to every one registered offender.
Paul Cavadino, director of crime reduction charity Nacro, welcomed the rules in principle but said: ˜The real test of these pilots will be whether this information can be kept confidential to the parents or whether it spreads to other people, causing a risk of vigilante attacks.
˜If this happened it could drive offenders underground, making it difficult for the police and probation service to keep track of them and increasing risk to other children.
Sara Payne, Sarah’s mother, welcomed the moves, but said there was far more still to do, adding: ˜This is a giant step towards truth and honesty when dealing with sex offenders and all we need now is for local communities up and down the UK to help make this work.
Source: Daily Mail