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By Samantha Payne
A Kent-based professor has expressed his horror at a new Home Office scheme that will allow parents to check if someone close to them is a sex offender.
Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at the University of Kent, said he fears the pilot projects will create a “powerful climate of mistrust” within communities.
He said: “I think it is a horrible idea. It creates all kinds of precedents.
"If you create a situation where you can go to the police to get information on somebody else on one issue, why not on something else?
"It’s likely to create a very powerful climate of mistrust and create a danger where people will maliciously use the information to get back at others.
“It is going to lead to an explosion of confusing information circulating in communities and a lot of people are going to be hurt by this.”
Under the measures parents will be able to check whether a person who has access to their child, such as a child's nanny, neighbour or a mother's new boyfriend, has convictions for child sexual offences.
The disclosure pilots will be rolled out for a year in partnership with Warwickshire, Hampshire, Cleveland and Cambridgeshire Police and Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) but if successful they could be implemented with other police forces - including Kent.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: “Giving parents the ability to find out if someone close to their child poses a risk will empower them. It will also help them to understand how to better protect their children.”
Let us know what you think of the plans
The pilots are the result of the Government's Child Sex Offender Review which was published in June, 2007.
They have been developed with advice from charities such as the NSPCC.
Currently anyone can register a concern about an individual and/or child, which will be investigated. But there is no standardised process or mechanism for the public to make an inquiry or receive relevant information.
Diana Sutton, head of policy at the NSPCC said: "We will have to wait and see if the pilot programmes help to keep children safe from sex offenders and do not just create a false sense of security.
“We strongly urge people to remain alert to the fact that not all child abusers have criminal records because many are not caught and charged with an offence. Someone might be given a clean bill of health by police because they do not have a criminal record but may still pose a threat to children.
“We must have a package of measures which include public education, people reporting any concerns they have to police or the NSPCC and effective treatment for offenders. Only then can we cautiously begin to feel that children will be safe from sex offenders."
How it will work
- The police will run two types of checks on the individual — a priority check within 24 hours and a full risk-assessment within 10 working days.
- If the person is found to have convictions for sexual offences against children the case will be referred to a MAPPA panel made up of police, probation, prison service and other relevant agencies to make the final decision on disclosure.
- If the person poses a risk of causing serious harm to the child involved, there is a presumption that this information will be disclosed to the parent, carer or guardian.
- It may be the case that the subject is not known to the police for child sexual offences but is showing worrying behaviour or is known for other offences that might put children's safety at risk, such as serious domestic violence. In this case the police will work with parents to protect children and provide advice and support under safeguarding children procedures.