Beds Children At Risk From Sexual Predators?

30 July 2015, 06:11 | Updated: 30 July 2015, 06:15

A charity claims children across Bedfordshire may be at risk of harm from sexual predators, because of claims the police aren't using Sarah's Law properly.

The Child Sex Offenders Disclosure (CSOD) scheme came into force following public outrage over the savage murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne. It allows parents and others to ask police for details about individuals if they suspect they might harm children.

But since it began in April 2011 just one in six applications for information has been successful and in Bedfordshire, the police force gave information about people who pose a risk to children in just 11% of applications (6 out of 53 applications).

Northamptonshire, Thames Valley and Hertfordshire Police failed to respond to requests on information applications.

NSPCC Freedom of Information requests to police forces in England and Wales found that from 2011-2014, just 16 per cent of applications under the scheme, known as ‘Sarah’s Law’, were successful – with vast variations in the numbers of police disclosures made across England and Wales.  

Between 2011-2014, 5,357 applications were made to 33 forces but only 877 applications resulted in disclosures being made. Five other forces said they had received 908 applications but did not provide information about disclosure numbers.

The new figures reveal wide variation in the proportion of disclosures made by different police, indicating a post code lottery when it comes to responding to public concerns.

As well as parents, carers and guardians, any concerned member of the public can formally ask the police to tell them if someone has a record for child sexual offences.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “We are both disturbed and surprised by this wide discrepancy of figures across the country, revealing that there is a postcode lottery when it comes to how forces deal with Sarah’s law.

“Families need to know if there are individuals in their area who pose a risk to children. How can you expect parents to make the right choices in order to protect their children if they don’t know who is a threat?” 

“The police need to be proactive in empowering communities to protect vulnerable children. The wide variation in disclosure numbers doesn’t breed confidence that the scheme is being understood or applied consistently and that is a concern. While there may be very good reasons for not disclosing information held to applicants, some forces seem to be too cautious which could put children at serious risk of harm. We need to see regular independent evaluation of this vital law to make sure it’s working as it should.”

The figures come weeks after the NSPCC’s State of the Nation report showed a dramatic increase in child sexual abuse being reported to police, with 3 offences committed against children every hour.