France 2 very kindly interviewed Researching Reform about legislation in England and Wales which allows members of the public to request information about convicted paedophiles who may be living in their community.
The legislation, also known as Sarah’s Law, and named after Sarah Payne who was abducted and murdered by paedophile Roy Whiting, allows the public to make formal requests to the police about individuals they believe may hold a record for child sex offences. The legislation works in tandem with a Child Sex Offender Register, which is held by police and not freely available to the public. If the police decide a request is in the best interests of any children who may be involved, they can decide to release the identity of a paedophile if he is on the register.
The police have been criticised for what appears to be reticence over granting requests for information. Between 2011, when Sarah’s Law came into force and 2014, only 877 out of 5,357 applications disclosed, were successful. The finding led the NSPCC to suggest that Sarah’s Law was not working as it was intended to.
Prior to our interview with France 2, we spoke with the team about the need to bolster legislation like Sarah’s Law with early intervention strategies, including better counselling and therapeutic services inside prisons in order to ensure that once convicted paedophiles have served their time, they are no longer a danger to children. We also talked about the ways in which convicted sex offenders sometimes try to cover up their pasts, by changing their name via deed poll – an article in 2016 revealed that over 800 sex offenders, including paedophiles, changed their names by deed poll to try to hide their convictions.
France 2 produced this report because they wanted to highlight the differences between France’s own system for monitoring paedophiles, with the UK’s. We’ve added a translation of their piece under the video, below:
“Sarah Payne was eight: in July 2000, this little English girl was abducted and murdered by 41 year old Roy Whiting, a convicted paedophile. The scandal spurred on Sarah’s parents and several organisations to campaign for a change in the law. In memory of this little girl, Sarah’s Law was created, which allowed anyone, from a parent to a member of the public to make a formal request to the police for information about an individual suspected of being on the sex offenders register. “If the police believe that it is in the best interests of a child, they will give the name and further details about the individual to the person who has asked for it, if they are on the register,” explains Natasha Phillips, a lawyer specialising in child protection.
The British sex offender register, which currently lists around 60,000 people is more accessible to the public than France’s own. Those registered for life include all sex offenders whose sentences are longer than 30 months; they must report to the police every time they change their address or take a trip abroad. The police can consult friends, school directors, sports club and association managers, and even homeowners when they receive a tenant’s file. Those authorised to access the register are committed to confidentiality rules, but there are exceptions. The press does not hesitate to publish photos of paedophiles, and groups like Dark Justice are taking the law into their own hands without legal backing from the authorities, tracking and publishing videos of paedophiles on the internet, even when the paedophile’s name has only been released the day before.”