‘Sarah’s law’ rolled out

By Ian Dunt

A controversial law which allows police to pass on information about sex offenders to parents will be rolled out to 18 new police force areas today.

The child sex offender disclosure scheme, known as ‘Sarah’s law’ after the campaign triggered by the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne, has already been piloted in four areas, where authorities say it has protected 60 children from abuse.

“We’ve already seen that children are better protected and sex offenders more effectively managed because of this scheme, which is why it is rolling out nationwide,” said home secretary Alan Johnson.

But critics say the law comes dangerously close to authorising mob rule and that it encourages vigilantism.

The scheme allows people to make an application for information about individuals in contact with a child. If the individual has a previous conviction for sexual offences against children and poses a risk of causing harm to them the police are entitled to give out the information.

In one of the case studies released by the Home Office today, a parent made an application regarding a neighbour who was offering sweets to their children.

Checks showed the individual was a child sex offender subject to a court order preventing them from being in contact with anyone aged under 18. The individual was arrested and remanded in custody.

In another case study a grandparent contacted authorities over their daughter’s new partner, who they thought was behaving strangely around their grandchildren. Checks did not reveal a previous conviction for ex offences but did show a history of violence and weapon use. The children’s social care department was given the information.

Sara Payne, mother of Sarah and long-term campaigner on opening up information for parents, welcomed the next stage of the roll out.

“I am delighted that the years of campaigning and hard work by so many friends and colleagues have provided those who care for children with the right to check that adults who have access to them do not pose a danger,” she said.

Over the course of the last year, 21 disclosures were made about registered sex offenders.

The scheme will roll out to all forces by the end of March 2011.