Monday, June 19, 2006

Releasing paedophile information

The announcement over the weekend that John Reid is considering introducing an equivalent of Megan's Law into the UK smacks to me of political opportunism, and an attempt to divert attention from other issues within the home office - including the fact that the outrage caused by relatively lenient sentences awarded to a man who kidnapped a three year old were in fact the result of New Labour drawing up legislation and not the fault of the judge.

As I see it, the main issue involved in releasing the information is that it will stir up lynch mobs of the kind witnessed in Portsmouth a few years ago. Quite apart from the issue of vigilantism, this is a disturbing thought as during those riots a pediatrician was attacked by morons who couldn't tell the difference between a child doctor and a child molestor. On top of that, the wrong individuals were identified in a number of cases and attacked. I saw some archive footage over the weekend of hand written banners were the word paedophile was misspelt.

Citizens are entitled to the protection of the state if they are threatened - this is true regardless of what they may or may not have done in the past. In particular, if they have committed a crime and have served their sentence, it is not acceptable for individuals to take it upon themselves to add to their punishment. If John Reid were to publish the details of paedophiles released from prison, he would almost certainly be incurring additional costs involved with protecting those people from vigilantism.

Better changes would be to give the courts the authority to extend the sentence of paedophiles if there is a significant risk they may strike again. There is lots of evidence that paedophilia is compulsive (a lesson that tragically the Catholic Church learned the hard way) and if you have already committed the offence, it seems reasonable to want to keep you in prison until you are no longer a risk to other children.

One suspects however, that this bill is less about protecting children and more about whipping tabloid hysteria so that, combined with the World Cup, the public will forget about the complete mess they've made of running the Home Office.

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