Cambs in child law trial

CAMBRIDGESHIRE will be a test ground for new legislation giving parents the right to know if a convicted paedophile is living near them. But the so-called Sarah s Law will not reflect the American version – Megan s Law – and allow photographs of convicted

CAMBRIDGESHIRE will be a test ground for new legislation giving parents the right to know if a convicted paedophile is living near them.

But the so-called Sarah's Law will not reflect the American version - Megan's Law - and allow photographs of convicted paedophiles to be published on websites.

Instead, the legislation, announced by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith at the weekend, will allow police and the probation service to inform parents that a convicted paedophile is living near them.

Another use would allow women, for example, to discover if a potential new boyfriend has previous convictions for abusing children, and check babysitters.

Anyone requiring to use the new law would have to make a request for the information and sign an affidavit agreeing not to pass it on - an attempt to safeguard against vigilante attacks.

The pilot scheme, also taking place in Cleveland, Hampshire and Warwickshire, is due to start in June and run for a year.

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If a success, it will be rolled out across England and Wales.

Exactly how it will operate in practice and how its success will be measured will be worked out by the Home Office with the police and probation services involved during the next four months.

Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly welcomed the law, saying: "It's being done in a balanced way. The original proposal was that people would just be told if a sex offender was living near them, but people will have to ask.

"It will have to be monitored carefully and it will go a long way to give people more comfort. If I am giving my child to someone to look after, I want to know about them. Otherwise, you would never forgive yourself."

Det Supt John Raine said Cambridgeshire police were happy to be one of the four forces involved in the pilot project.

"Our public protection department has recently received a good report from the Home Office inspectors for the work we do.

"With effective links to children's social care and the local Safeguarding Children Board, we are in a strong position to see if this proposal will actually work to further protect children from harm."

Concern had been raised that the country would embrace Megan's Law - it is claimed the law caused cases of vigilante attacks, mistaken identity issues and suicides.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We are not introducing a US-style Megan's Law or automatic disclosure of child sex offender details to the general public. This would encourage offenders to go missing and therefore put children at greater risk.

"Parents will be able to register a child-protection interest in a named individual. This must be someone they have a personal relationship with, and who has regular unsupervised access to the child in a private context.

"Convictions will be disclosed if the subject of the registration has convictions for child sex offences, if it is decided that the disclosure will protect the child."

The law has been named Sarah's Law by the media in memory of Sarah Payne, eight, who was murdered in Sussex in July 2000 by convicted paedophile Roy Whiting.

The current proposals are part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, announced by then Home Secretary, John Reid, last year.

Caution was expressed by several bodies when the proposals were announced. The NSPCC said open access for everyone could put youngsters at greater risk if offenders went on the run.

And the crime reduction charity Nacro called for the introduction of renewable sentences where offenders are detained until no longer dangerous.