Reid puts his ‘head on the block’ but criticism continues

John Reid yesterday admitted he could be sacked if he failed to sort out the problems at the Home Office, which he said last month was “not fit for purpose”.

Speaking after a meeting with civil servants, where he outlined his plans to improve the department, the home secretary told reporters that he and permanent secretary David Normington “together will be putting our head on the block”.

He resisted calls to break up the Home Office into separate ministries for justice, homeland security and immigration, but admitted he needed to carry out a “fundamental overhaul” of the department to restore public confidence.

Shadow home secretary David Davis welcomed the admission, saying: “At last Dr Reid has admitted what a disaster he has made of his first month [in the job].

“Never in the history of the Home Office has a home secretary made himself so culpable for so many mistakes in such a short space of time.”

Just hours later, Mr Reid also faced criticism from the children’s commissioner for suggesting parents should have access to information about any sex offenders living in their area.

He announced at the weekend that one of his ministers would be travelling to the US to see how the so-called Megan’s law was working, with a view to possibly introducing it into Britain.

But a spokeswoman for children’s commissioner Al Aynsley-Green said giving parents details about sex offenders would only drive those offenders underground, making it more difficult for the authorities to monitor them.

“Introducing a version of ‘Megan’s Law’ in the UK would do nothing to help parents keep their children safe from sex offenders,” she said.

“In fact, it could increase the risk of sexual abuse from strangers…[it] could detract from the fact that children are actually most at risk from people known to them.”

The announcement was prompted by the revelation that dozens of convicted sex offenders were being housed near schools, which saw Mr Reid promise to rectify this situation by moving the individuals involved.

But coming as an Ofsted report suggested many schools are not properly vetting their staff, it has set off another row about sex offenders. This was only exacerbated by the news that the authorities have lost track of many of those released into the community.

The Home Office last night revealed that the number of registered sex offenders living in the community in England and Wales has increased from 18,500 in 2001-02 to almost 29,000 last year.

Of these, almost 1,000 were cautioned or convicted for breaching their registration requirements, up from 682 four years earlier.

Mike Penning, the Conservative MP who obtained the figures in a written answer, said: “The whole point of the sex offenders register is to protect children.

“This is probably the most alarming example of the chaos which has engulfed the Home Office in recent weeks.”