No hiding place for sex offenders

Share this article

SEX attackers are facing an unprecedented police crackdown that will involve naming and shaming offenders, satellite tracking and lie detector tests, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

The controversial plans are being drawn up by SNP and Scottish Tory politicians in a bid to restore public confidence in the justice system after a string of cases in which paedophiles and other dangerous offenders were free to rape, assault and murder.

Only last week it emerged that Peter Tobin, the killer of Polish student Angelika Kluk, had managed to “disappear” from police surveillance for almost a year despite being a known threat to women and on the sex offenders' register.

Labour said last night they were likely to back the crackdown, meaning it could become law as early as next year.

The change will give police sweeping new powers to monitor and control sex offenders, including releasing the names and photographs of those who fail to tell the authorities where they are living.

The plan has also received widespread support from police officers and victims' charities who said the human rights of offenders had for too long triumphed over the lawful protection of women and children.

Concern is mounting that the laws controlling offenders are too weak. Yesterday, serial sex attacker Morris Petch was recaptured by police in Edinburgh after going on the run while on bail awaiting sentence for raping two girls in the city.

Critics say if Petch had been properly monitored he would never have been able to escape.

The new minority SNP government has entered into an ad hoc pact with the Tories to radically reform the law. Key measures include the following:

• Any sex offender who cannot be found at the home address he has given police will have his name and photograph posted on a website and given to the media. It is hoped that the fear of being “named and shamed” in this way will put off offenders who might consider giving authorities the slip.

• All sex offenders to be fitted with tracking devices which can monitor their movements through a combination of satellite-tracking and radio links to black boxes at their home addresses. If an offender disappears from the tracking system, or otherwise behaves oddly, then police will be called to attend immediately. The tagging system will be complemented by regular police visits to ensure that the offender is where the tag says he is.

• Lie detector tests will be used with selected offenders to check both their state of mind and conduct in the community. While there are questions about the effectiveness of polygraphs, it is hoped that using them will act as a deterrent.

The detailed proposals have been drawn up by Scottish Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken, who will present them to Alex Salmond, the First Minister, and to Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, at a meeting which is likely to take place within the next fortnight.

Sources close to both Salmond and MacAskill have indicated they are broadly in favour of the plans, which have also been welcomed by police insiders.

Aitken said: “We will never know whether, if this legislation had been in force, Tobin would have committed the crime, but the effect of this legislation would be to prevent sex offenders going to ground and significantly improves public safety. And I’m hopeful that all parties will see the sense of these proposals and they will be implemented.”

A source close to MacAskill, said: “He will be delighted to meet with Bill Aitken and discuss the plans and he basically agrees with most of what Bill says. The one thing that he will need some convincing on is the lie-detector bit. He’s looking forward to hearing the explanation on that.”

Although the SNP and the Tories between them do not have enough MSPs for a majority, the likely support of Labour means they are all but certain to be passed in some form.

A source close to Labour leader Jack McConnell said: “Labour has always had a clear commitment to protect communities although we were somewhat held back by our Lib Dem partners in the last coalition.

“We have a clear manifesto commitment to naming and shaming serious sex offenders and we shall expect the SNP to act. We take this matter very seriously.”

A senior police insider said: “I think that naming offenders who go to ground is a very good idea. Put it this way, if Tobin’s picture had been plastered all over the place then you can be absolutely sure someone would have clocked him and we’d have nailed him.”

But a leading human rights lawyer urged caution in going ahead with all the proposals.

John Scott, of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, said: “These measures should only be used selectively and in the most extreme cases. Sex offenders come in all shapes and sizes and they do not all represent the same level of danger.The lie detector bit is the ropiest part of the whole thing.”

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: “The Scottish government is keen to reach a consensus on the matter. Ministers believe that a traffic light system, with the police and procurator fiscal able to trigger a ‘red alert’ in a variety of circumstances, offers a positive way forward.

“But equally, they are very willing to discuss other similar proposals in the hope that the parliament can move forward together.”