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Home Office opens sex offender files in pilot scheme

Limited access under Violent Crime Action Plan

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The British government is to pilot the limited opening up of sex offender information to parents worried about specific individuals who have access to their children.

The pilot is part of the Home Office Violent Crime Action Plan, released today.

From June this year parents in Cambridgeshire, Cleveland, Hampshire and Warwickshire will be able to go to the police and ask if a person who has access to their child has any previous convictions for child sex offences. Or in the words of the press release: "There will be a presumption that 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 Home Office told us that this decision would be made by the police and could not explain when such a disclosure would not be in the interest of the child. A team of civil servants is to start visiting and training the four police forces shortly in time for the June start date.

Before being given any information parents will have to sign an affidavit to confirm the information they are providing is correct and that there might "be legal consequences if they have made false claims". The year-long trial will be rolled out across England and Wales if successful.

The changes are part of Jacqui Smith's "Violent Crime Action Plan" which outlines government priorities for the next three years. Some of this reflects Blair's crime review last year which raised the possibility pipe-dream of predicting who would commit crimes by better use of government data.

In essence, this suggested that by better combining all the information kept on British citizens in various government departments, we could predict which individuals are likely to commit crimes.

Given confidence in the government's competence to keep any data within any one department safe, it is obvious why this raises concerns in some quarters.

Today's action plan says:

Many of the individuals who are involved or at risk of involvement in violence will known to criminal justice and other statutory agencies. It is crucial that this information is shared between agencies. What social services, housing authorities, health services, schools or the police know about an offender or potential offender, or a victim, may be inconclusive in isolation, but piecing it together with information from other agencies will start to build a picture of the true level of risk posed by, or to, that individual.

We are also promised "robust protection" for children when they're online.

The Home Office also said: "We are working with the internet industry to assess how to respond to the growing public concern about violent and offensive content being posted popular websites."

To counter violence in the real work the government is also paying for 100 portable knife-detecting arches and 400 wands - as piloted by British Transport Police.

Apparently, all of England and Wales' 43 police forces will have access to this stash of detection technology - though we can't imagine the Metropolitan Police will be happy to get just two arches. The technology will be more widely deployed over the next three years, the Home Office said. Which we think means they will bu even more.

The Action Plan is available as a 68 page pdf from here.

NSPCC head of policy and public affairs, Diana Sutton welcomed moves to protect children against violence but said: “However, the Government has missed an important opportunity to make physical punishment of children illegal. It is an offence for adults to hit adults and children should be given equal or greater protection from assault.

“There must be a zero tolerance approach to the physical punishment of children. Allowing smacking to remain legal sends out the wrong message about our society’s attitude to violence.

“As the action plan is implemented, it will be important for children's charities to remain closely involved in order to ensure that children’s rights and safety are upheld.” ®

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