LONDON (Reuters) - Parents will be able to find out whether paedophiles live near them under the first trial of new legislation known as Sarah’s Law, despite fears of vigilante attacks, an MP said on Tuesday.
Labour’s Dan Norris said on his Web site that his Wansdyke constituency in Somerset will be the first to give parents and schools information about paedophiles’ whereabouts.
Critics say the experiment could endanger children by driving offenders underground, hamper police and probation officers and encourage vigilante attacks.
But Norris said the experiment could give children greater protection if handled properly.
“Parents deserve a right to information but at the same time we must avoid fuelling vigilante attacks on paedophiles,” he told his local paper. “This only causes them to go underground and makes them harder to control.
“We need to make sure people can’t abuse it and make it ineffectual.”
The Home Office would not confirm reports that Home Secretary John Reid is to announce details of the trials soon.
Campaigners have lobbied for greater powers for parents to monitor sex offenders since paedophile Roy Whiting abducted and murdered eight-year-old Sarah Payne in 2000.
Sarah’s Law takes its name from the American “Megan’s Law” — named after seven-year-old Megan Kanka from New Jersey who was raped and murdered by a sex offender who lived on her street.
During the pilot, parents will given general information about local paedophiles, but will not be told exact addresses, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Officials are keen to see how many people ask for information and whether the pilot leads to vigilantism against offenders or people mistaken for suspects, it said.
Children’s charity Barnardo’s said the trials were “very, very bad news”.
“This will put children’s lives in danger,” Chief Executive Martin Narey told BBC radio. “The best way of supervising sex offenders if they are not in jail is to keep them under the most meticulous supervision.
“Parents of children in adjacent constituencies should feel very worried.”
Senior police have accused the government of being blackmailed by the media into making up policy “on the hoof”.
Dyfed and Powys Chief Constable Terry Grange said the Home Office had dropped its sex offender management strategy “in favour of trying to find out what one particular tabloid newspaper wants”.