Public trial of sex offender database begins

News 15 Sep, 2008 , ,

Four areas of the UK can now check whether friends, family and people working with their children are known sex offenders.

The sex offenders database is being opened up to public scrutiny, with the citizens of four counties being given access to the system in order to check up on people working and living in the regions who have contact with children.

The pilot scheme, launched today, allows police and probation services to disclose some information to families about people who have unsupervised contact with their children. It is being trialled by police in Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Cleveland and Warwickshire.

"You have to be a parent, carer or a guardian and you would go to the police or the authorities and say you have concern about somebody who had unsupervised direct access to your children," Home Office minister Vernon Coaker told BBC radio.

The scheme follows last year’s changes to the UK Sexual Offences Act which also saw the law widened to include acts such as email harassment as sexual offences.

Further to Coaker’s comments, the trial does not extend to pro-actively identifying registered sex offenders living locally in the same way as the US ‘Megan’s Law’ practice in the US.

Coaker said there would be safeguards in the system to ensure information was kept confidential to prevent the possibility of vigilante attacks or direct disclosure to third parties such as the media.

"The whole point of this is to pilot these processes, to test them to see whether they make a difference to child protection," he said.