Echo defends register as locals demand Sarah's Law

Daily Echo: reporting estate protest

The newspaper that established a local register of sex offenders as long ago as 1993 last week found itself reporting a second wave of calls for paedophiles to be identified.

The Daily Echo, Bournemouth, then under the guidance of editor Gareth Weekes, was the first newspaper in the country to push for a limited-access register of sex offenders, allowing organisations involved with children to check the records of those applying for jobs with them.

The register is still kept up to date, said editor Neal Butterworth. "Our newsdesk religiously goes through the newspaper every week and makes sure the names of any convicted sex offenders are included on the list."

Butterworth said it was a subject the paper had been campaigning on for about nine years. "Gareth launched a campaign called Protect our Children. It wasn’t a naming and shaming policy, but one where any bona fide group can approach us to ask whether they can look at the register to check if a person who has applied for a job is a convicted paedophile," he explained.

"Most of the local groups know it exists. Our biggest problems are that we have a fair amount of interest from people who shouldn’t be taking an interest. And the police don’t quite agree with it. We have had a couple of run-ins with them." One such run-in took place only last week, when the Echo requested the picture of a man who had raped a 10-year-old girl and sexually assaulted a seven-year-old. The police said they felt the circumstances weren’t exceptional enough for the paper to use a picture.  "We had a major pop about that," said Butterworth. "We published a front page with a silhouette of a man’s head, saying, ‘We would have had a picture of this man, but the police have refused to give us one – why?’  We got a lot of phone calls, letters and e-mails of support."

Last week a Bournemouth group called for the introduction in the UK of Sarah’s Law – the right in the US of local people to know if dangerous paedophiles live among them – after claiming that 17 paedophiles were living on one housing estate alone.

Butterworth said: "They contacted us. We went out and interveiwed them and spoke to all the various agencies. There have been demonstrations outside the town hall. It all went very smoothly, without hysterics. But the petitioners are upping the ante – they are not going to stop at this point."

By Jean Morgan

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