One sex offender goes awol every two days

REPORTS of freed sex offenders breaching the conditions of their licence rose by more than 30 per cent last year, sparking concerns about the threat they pose to Scottish communities.

Reports by criminal justice authorities, partnerships of police, probation, health and social workers, revealed 178 incidents where offenders failed to show up when they were required to in 2009-10 - the equivalent of two a day - compared to 136 the previous year.

A snapshot on 31 March revealed there were 22 registered Scottish sex offenders classed as "wanted" and nine "missing", although these figures were similar to the same day on the previous year.

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Officials working on Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements believe monitoring is effective as reoffending by sexual criminals is lower than other types of criminals, and the number of breaches in 2009-10, although up on the previous year, was slightly less than the total of 183 in 2007-8.

The Scottish Government is also rolling out a disclosure scheme, piloted in Tayside, where people can ask for background information about people with access to their children.

However, the fact that a growing number of offenders are disregarding appointments will cause concern.

Kate Higgins, policy manager for the charity Children 1st, said: "Statistics such as these may worry parents and it is important that sex offenders who do not adhere to the requirements in the monitoring programme are identified and investigated."

Richard Baker, Scottish Labour's justice spokesman, said: "This significant increase in breaches for failure to notify is deeply concerning. The information gained by notification helps the authorities to keep tabs on sex offenders and in turn helps protect the public."

John Lamont, the Scottish Conservatives' justice spokesman, added: "These figures again go to prove that merely placing somebody on the sex offenders register is not enough and that the current measures in place need to be far more robust. We have repeatedly called for GPS tracking and lie detectors for sex offenders." Detective Chief Superintendent Roddy Ross, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland lead for sex offender management, said: "It's always a concern to us when offenders step out of line, but registration is only one part of their relationship with their managing officer."I don't think any inference can be drawn from this increase."

Lothian and Borders experienced the highest number of breaches, with 39, up from 27 the previous year.

A police spokesman said: "The rise in the number of such breaches reflects the robust approach that Lothian and Borders Police takes towards managing sex offenders in the community, as well as the effective monitoring processes that are in place."

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Michelle Miller, chief social work officer at the Association of Directors of Social Work, said: "Reporting offenders for a breach of their licence conditions is an important element in the protection of the public. Therefore an increase in breach reports should not be interpreted as a negative indicator, but as a positive step in the protection of the public."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Scotland now has one of the most robust systems of managing sex offenders in the world, we have made significant strides forward in recent years in toughening up our approach, such as the roll out of a scheme which gives parents the right to know if a sex offender has access to their children."