Few things strike more fear into parents than the suspicion that a child abuser is living nearby.
Under certain circumstances, however, mums and dads have the right to obtain information from the police database to see if a convicted child sex offender is living in their area.
The Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, better known as 'Sarah's Law', was set up following the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne in 2000.
Sarah, from Surrey, was abducted and murdered by convicted child sex offender Roy Whiting who had an earlier conviction for the abduction and indecent assault of another eight-year-old girl.
Sarah's Law allows controlled public access to the Sex Offenders' Register to which the police, Probation Service and HM Prison service have access.
That isn't to say the public can search it freely.
What is Sarah's Law?
The child sex offender disclosure scheme in England and Wales (also sometimes known as “Sarah’s Law”), allows anyone to ask the police if someone with access to a child has a record for child sexual offences.
Police will reveal details confidentially to the person most able to protect the child (usually parents, carers or guardians) if they think it is in the child’s interests.
What is the background to the scheme?
The law was developed in consultation with Sara Payne, whose eight-year-old daughter Sarah was murdered by a convicted paedophile.
Sarah, who lived in Hersham, Surrey, disappeared on the evening of July 1, 2000 from a cornfield near the home of her paternal grandparents in Kingston Gorse, West Sussex.
A body was found on July 17, 2000 in a field near Pulborough, some 15 miles from Kingston Gorse where she had disappeared. It was confirmed as Sarah.
Roy Whiting was convicted of the abduction and murder of Sarah on December 12, 2001 and sentenced to life imprisonment.
After he was convicted, it was revealed that Whiting had previously abducted and sexually assaulted an eight-year-old girl and had served four years in prison for that crime.
Ms Payne campaigned to bring in a law which allows every parent in the country to know if dangerous offenders are living in their area.
Who goes on the Sex Offenders' Register?
Remember that what constitutes ‘sex offender’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘paedophile’.
A wide variety of people are placed on the Sex Offenders' Register every year, after receiving a caution or being convicted of an offence. This could be, for example, a man who received a caution for having smacked a girl on the buttocks while she was passing him on the street, a 22-year-old female teacher who had sexual intercourse with her 15-year-old student, or at the very serious end of the scale, someone like Roy Whiting, who killed Sarah Payne.
Similarly, sex offenders are on the Sex Offenders' Register for differing lengths of time, depending on the type of offence:
- A jail term of 30 months to life = remain on the register indefinitely
- A jail term of 6 to 30 months = registration for 10 years
- A sentence of less than 6 months = on the register for seven years
- A community order sentence = on the register for five years
- A caution issued = on the register for two years
- With the exception of prison sentences of 30 months or more, minors (offenders under the age of 18) will have their registration period halved.
How do I access the information?
Important: If you feel a child is in immediate danger, you should call 999 straight away.
In all other circumstances that are not an emergency, you can request information relating to a child that you are in a position to protect or safeguard by calling 101 or visit your local police station.
Alternatively you can go to a police station and ask them for a ‘Child Sex Offenders Disclosure Scheme Form’ (Sarah’s Law), or Form 284.
If police checks show the individual has a record for child sexual offences, or other offences that might put the child at risk, the police will consider sharing this information.
You should know that disclosure is not guaranteed - the police will only consider telling the person best placed to protect the child – usually a parent, carer or guardian – if the person being checked has a record of child sexual offences or other offences that indicate they may pose a risk to a child.
The police will disclose information only if it is lawful, necessary and proportionate to do so in the interests of protecting the child, or children, from harm.
- For more advice and information on protecting children from abuse, visit the Parents Protect website
But you should know that even if they do release the information...
- If the police make a disclosure, parents and carers must keep the information confidential and only use it to keep their child safe. Legal action may be taken if confidentiality is breached.
This story first appeared in the Hull Daily Mail .