Early reviews mooted for sex offenders

14th September 2007 at 01:00
SEX OFFENDERS and other criminals under 25 could be given early reviews of their cases, allowing them to work with children, under government proposals. But men who have convictions involving gay sex could be automatically barred.

The new Independent Safeguarding Authority, which takes up its powers next year, is expected to vet up to 11 million people to decide whether they are fit to work with children or vulnerable adults.

Offenders aged between 18 and 25, presently banned from working with children for 10 years without right of review, could have their cases reviewed after five years.

The National Association of Head Teachers opposes the change, saying the authority's primary focus must be on protecting the safety of children, not protecting the rights of adult offenders.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, said protecting children and vulnerable adults was the scheme's unequivocal first priority. "The ISA will only grant permission for a review if it is satisfied that the individual's circumstances have changed sufficiently to justify this."

The Government is consulting on which offenders should be automatically barred under the new regime, and which should be considered individually. The plan to include "buggery" and "indecency between males" as automatic barring offences has infuriated Schools Out, a support group for gays in education. The individual will have to satisfy the authority that he or she does not pose a risk of harm to children or vulnerable adults.

Paul Patrick, co-chair of Schools Out, estimated that dozens of gay teachers, teaching assistants and other school workers would again be branded as threats to children.

"Any attempt, however oblique, to suggest that gay men may be such a threat is defamatory and despicable," he said.

The Government has been tightening checks on school workers since the 2002 murders of 10-year-olds Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by Ian Huntley, a school caretaker. This year, in a civil case, Huntley admitted having indecently assaulted an 11-year-old girl, Hailey Giblin, in September 1997.

Huntley was under 25 when that assault is alleged to have happened but was not prosecuted.

Ms Giblin's lawyer, Richard Scorer, said he was concerned that the authority learns lessons of previous paedophilia cases, and issue reprieves only when it was clear there was no risk of reoffending.

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