The Newcastle Evening Chronicle is claiming a victory in its campaign to protect children from sex offenders, which it started when an 11-year-old boy was beaten to death in 1999.
The Government announced it was plugging a loophole in the Sex Offenders Act – meaning hundreds more newly-released offenders will now be supervised – two years to the day after the Chronicle launched a campaign calling for the move.
The paper’s Never Again campaign followed the murder of schoolboy Wesley Neailey.
Neailey was beaten to death by Dominic McKilligan, 19, who had previously been convicted of sex offences against children.
Because these offences were committed before the introduction of the Sex Offenders Register, McKilligan was unmonitored when he arrived on Tyneside after his release from serving a supervision order at a young persons’ centre.
McKilligan was convicted of Neailey’s murder and rape and, as a result of the second offence, was put on the Sex Offenders Register. But when he successfully appealed against the rape conviction, he was removed from the register, again freeing him from its restrictions upon his eventual release.
The Chronicle’s Never Again campaign called on the Government to add sexually-motivated crimes, such as murder and burglary with intent to rape, onto the list of offences which mean those convicted go on the Sex Offenders Register.
The paper teamed up with the boy’s family to launch the campaign and it was backed by Det Supt Trevor Fordy, the Northumbria police officer who helped to put McKilligan behind bars.
More than 36,000 readers pledged their support by signing a petition which was handed over to Jack Straw, then Home Secretary, by Neailey’s mother and his grandfather.
The Never Again campaign won its first battle in September 2000 when the Home Office announced a review of the Sex Offenders Act.
On 30 July – the second anniversary of the appeal launch – the present Home Secretary, David Blunkett, announced the new laws.
Neailey’s mother, Liz Neailey, said: "This comes too late for Wesley but it will help others. Thanks to the Chronicle we have been able to see this through. It is a proud time for us and it should be a proud time for the North East community who helped bring about this change."
Chronicle editor Alison Hastings said: "We felt it was absolutely vital that all children should be given the maximum protection possible against paedophiles and another case similar to that of Wesley Neailey should never again be allowed to happen.
"The fact that 36,000 of our readers signed a petition backing the campaign was a clear demonstration about the depth of feeling about the issue in the North East.
"We are glad that at long last the Government has sat up, taken notice and seen sense."
By Jean Morgan