Are we entitled to feel safer? 'Sarah's Law'

Following a trial of the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, the scheme known as 'Sarah's Law' is to be introduced over a period of time on a national basis. The scheme allows parents to check if someone with access to their children is a sex offender.

Sara Payne, the mother of Sarah Payne, who was kidnapped and murdered by a convicted sex offender, Roy Whiting, thinks it is right to introduce Sarah's Law  on a national basis although she argues that there is an issue about full disclosure. 

Sara was made the government's Victims' Champion after her campaign to bring in the measures.

She has been reported as saying in the News of the World newspaper that "despite this positive step, I still believe there's a need for fuller disclosure".

Sara did however point out that children had been made safer by the scheme, adding: "Sarah would be so proud, I'm only sorry it took her death for this vital reform to become a reality."

The scheme, which is to be piloted in eight more police force areas prior to being expanded to the whole of England and Wales by the Spring of 2011, is the result of extensive trials to evaluate such concerns as vigilante retaliations and driving paedophiles undergound thereby increasing risk as opposed to proving a greater degree of protection.  This is what some professionals have had to say about the scheme.

Diana Sutton, of the NSPCC, has acknowledged that the pilot scheme has helped protect some children, but urged the government to "tread cautiously" as it expanded the initiative.

"We remain concerned about the risk of vigilante action and sex offenders going underground. All new local schemes need close management and proper resourcing to avoid this," she said.

One of the concerns is whether it is right to expect informed parents to keep the information to themselves.  Chief Constable Paul West of the Association of Chief Police Officers ,who has been closely involved with the scheme, thinks that the scheme will work without the need for widespread disclosure.

According to Paul West "If there is information that says someone with previous offences for child sex offending is living in a particular house next door, and became known to a person, if there were other children to whom they have access, clearly that would come out in the course of the investigation and we would disclose that appropriately to anyone who has children who are at risk,"

"The point is, we don't go for widespread public disclosure to anybody and everybody because that's just the sort of thing that leads to the vigilantism which we've seen in the past."

Home Secretary Theresa May is also on record as saying that the scheme was an "important step forward for child protection" which would also help police manage known sex offenders more effectively.

"Being able to make these checks reassures parents and the community and, more importantly, keeps children safer."

In the past we have seen instances of families and members of the public protesting on the streets as a result of someone finding out that a sex offender has been living amongst them.  With such strength of feeling about the safety of children running so high, will such scenes be repeated?  Any parent could argue that their child is still at risk-it is enough that a convicted sex offender is at large in their neighbourhood.  Having said that this legislation marks something of a milestone in that it does demonstrate the willingness of the government to embark on such pilot schemes and widespread involvement and consultation of proposed legislation in an attempt to arrive at a workable solution.  Time will tell. 

In addition there has been vigilante action taken against individuals.  One such individual being Bryan Davies.

Ironically, the widow of Bryan Davies has acknowledged that the scheme is capable of not only protecting children but also individuals falsely accused by the public as was her husband.  Apparently he suffered a massive heart attack after months of vandalism and abuse at the hands of local youths who wrongly believed he was a sex offender.

Mrs Davies, has been reported as saying: “It would have made a difference for Bryan and he could still have been alive.

“If those parents making the accusations and starting the rumours had been able to check the information for themselves, it would never have escalated.

“If people are actually registered sex offenders then I agree with the parents having that information. It’s a good idea to be able to check.

“But then you get people like Bryan who was accused and cleared, yet still there was the vigilante behaviour.

“It must be very carefully handled because one false rumour or misinformation can result in what happened to Bryan.”

 

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