In this week’s episode, the abuse team discuss the epidemic of missing sex offenders, as hundreds across the UK slipped off the radar of police in a three-year period. Freedom of Information requests by BBC News to 45 police forces reveal 729 sex offenders had gone missing or were wanted for arrest from 2019-2021.
Abuse survivors have called on the government to introduce a new law to ban sex offenders changing their names. The Home Office says it has “some of the toughest powers in the world to deal with sex offenders”.
Calling the situation a scandal, MP Sarah Champion said the key reason so many offenders went missing was because they had changed their names.
Perpetrators should not be able to change their names and escape the authorities and their pasts, according to campaigners. MPs are due to discuss the issue.
The BBC Shared Data Unit also found that almost 1,500 registered sex offenders notified police forces of lawful name changes. Twenty-one police forces provided those figures.
The campaign group, the Safeguarding Alliance, has raised the scale of this issue since 2019.
There are around 67,000 registered sex offenders living in the UK.
Sarah Champion MP said this issue had been “dumped in the ‘too difficult’ drawer.”
Critics say the law is too easy to bypass because it places the onus on offenders to report changes in their circumstances.
Ms Champion is the Labour MP for Rotherham, where at least 1,400 children were the victims of abuse between 1997 and 2013. She previously raised in Parliament registered sex offenders were changing their names then applying for fresh identity documents, allowing them to potentially secure jobs working with children.
‘The costs ranged from £42.44 for an enrolled deed poll, where the applicant’s new name was added to public records.
Some offenders were changing their names while in prison by paying an administration fee of £15 for a “do-it-yourself” unenrolled deed poll which required two witnesses, she previously told Parliament.
Ms Champion said: “Clearly, the current system of notification isn’t working. The sheer scale of breaches and sex offenders going missing is a scandal, but one the public don’t know about.”
What is the current law?
If someone is added to the Sex Offenders Register, they are required to provide certain personal details to the police, including their name, any aliases they have been known by, their current address and passport details. They have to visit a police station annually to comply with notification requirements, and to inform the authorities of any change to personal details.
If any of these personal details change, they must notify the police within three days or offenders can face up to five years in prison.
Chief Constable Michelle Skeer, national lead for the management of sex offenders, said whilst anybody could change their name, these additional legislative obligations were monitored closely.
Many want sex offenders to be banned from changing their name once they are added to the register.
Survivor’s point of view
“It shouldn’t be for victims and survivors to beg Government to do something about this. We’re still having to ask in 2023.” And “It’s not something that ever leaves the victim so why should the person that’s done it be able to escape it so easily,”
Donald Findlater, director at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation charity, which is dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse, said some offenders changed their name to build a better life and not offend in future, or to “protect their family from the stigma of their identity”.
He said the 1,500 sex offenders who notified police forces of lawful name changes was “exactly as it should be” because they followed the rules.
The BBC’s Freedom of Information requests also highlighted over the same three-year period:
- There had been more than 5,500 offences committed by sex offenders of failing to comply with notification requirements such as not telling police they were living in a household with a child. Thirty-two police forces provided that data.
- The Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) found 2,190 applicants for checks had criminal records and they had supplied incorrect or missed out personal details such as past names or aliases.
- The BBC can also reveal a total of 6,740 prosecutions began over the past three financial years for offences by sex offenders of breaches of a sexual harm prevention order or interim order.
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