Reid examines Megan’s law

The government is considering whether to give parents and schools controlled access to information about convicted child sex offenders in their areas.

Home secretary John Reid said yesterday he was sending one of his ministers to the US to see how so-called Megan’s law operated, and whether it could be introduced in the UK.

His comments came after the News of the World revealed that 60 child abusers had been housed in government-approved hostels sited near schools.

Mr Reid has now told the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) to implement “restricted admission” at 11 such hostels, and at the same time ordered a review of how convicted paedophiles are managed in the community.

Currently, the multi-agency public protection panels which decide on the supervision of released paedophiles only inform parents and schools on a need to know basis, but the home secretary said he was reviewing this.

“I start from the position that information should no longer remain the exclusive preserve of officialdom,” he said in a statement released to the Sunday newspaper.

“I believe the public have the right to protection and they have the right to information. We must make sure that we get the balance right though and that the free flow of information does not undermine the public’s safety.”

The News of the World has been campaigning for a new right for parents to know about paedophiles in their neighbourhood since the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne six years ago.

Under so-called Sarah’s law, information would be given to members of the public charged with looking after children, and parents would be able to access a local record of all organisations to check whether employees or volunteers are properly vetted.

Minister Gerry Sutcliffe is expected to travel to the US this summer to look at how Megan’s law, which was introduced in 1997 by president Bill Clinton following the murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka, operates.

“I have also asked the minister to study specifically the The News of the World’s Sarah’s law proposals on controlled access to information,” Mr Reid said.

Sarah Payne’s mother, Sara, welcomed the announcement, telling Channel Four News: “We want our children put first, we want tighter sentencing, and we want controlled access to the register.

“I think what we have to do today is applaud John Reid for his boldness and admit that he has taken a massive step forward, which is not going to make him very popular in political circles.”

However, opposition parties have warned that handing out details of sex offenders’ whereabouts could lead to lynch mob law.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “We must get it right. We can study it carefully and see if we can come out with a humane and safe outcome.

“But I would not rush to say we are going to do it. This is something where very careful consideration will pay dividends.”

His Liberal Democrat counterpart added: “Of course every measure should be taken to protect children from paedophiles, but this should never topple into vigilantism.”