School tip-off son sex offenders

15th August 1997 at 01:00
The limited disclosure to schools and others on the whereabouts of paedophiles permitted under Government guidance issued this week has been welcomed by Stirling's director of education, who was at the centre of a storm when he alerted 12 schools to a convicted paedophile who had moved into their area.

Gordon Jeyes said: "Sharing information among professionals who have responsibility for child protection is essential, and that is all we had been attempting to do."

Mr Jeyes ran into trouble when a "bland memo" to heads, which did not name the man or detail his offences, was leaked to the press. A mob gathered outside the man's home in January, forcing the police to remove him to safety.

The Secretary of State has now issued Scottish guidance under the Sex Offenders Act 1997, which comes into effect throughout the UK on September 1. Convicted sex offenders will have to tell the police where they are living on release from prison and when they change address. Failure to comply could mean a six-month jail sentence and a fine of up to Pounds 5,000.

Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, says the overriding objective is to protect children and vulnerable adults while not discouraging the rehabilitation of offenders. But a spokesman for Children in Scotland suggested the new rules were little more than a standardisation of police procedures. "There is a very real danger that child sex offenders will be driven to greater depths of deception," he said.

Mr Jeyes reflected a more general reaction, welcoming the discretion given to police and local authorities. "Making the information public would not be our position," he said. "That is almost the absence of a policy."

Alistair Johnston, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said at the time of the Stirling row that an informal tip-off to heads should be sufficient.

The Scottish Office circular states: "Disclosure of personal information about individual offenders should be the exception to a general policy of confidentiality and each decision on whether or not to disclose should be justified case by case." The police will be under an obligation to warn off paedophiles if, for example, they are seen loitering near a school before deciding whether to inform headteachers and playgroup leaders.

The circular adds: "The police should ensure that they discuss with the individual to whom the information has been disclosed how the information should be managed and in particular whether further action, such as guidance to parents on helping children to be street wise, say no to strangers, is necessary. It must also be made clear whether the information can be further disclosed to, for example, the deputy headteacher, or not."

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