• SINGLE mothers will be able to demand police checks on prospective boyfriends under a new scheme designed to combat paedophiles.
The initiative, to be launched tomorrow, is a watered-down version of Sarah’s Law – a proposal named after eight-year-old Sarah Payne, who was murdered eight years ago.
But the plan to give “vulnerable carers”, such as single mothers, access to the Sex Offenders’ Register has been criticised as unworkable and wide open to abuse by its opponents.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the probation officers’ union Napo, said: “This scheme will be fraught with difficulties.
“The most vulnerable women rarely seek help. It will also be open to abuse by people who want to obtain information about those they may wish to damage.”
Ministers have selected four police regions where single mothers and foster parents will be able to ask for a criminal record check on strangers who have recently come into contact with their children.
From tomorrow, qualifying parents in Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Cleveland and Warwickshire will be able to call a police hotline to arrange the checks. Single fathers will also be able to use the system.
If successful, the Home Office will implement the scheme across the country. It stops short of giving any member of the public access to the names and addresses of all 31,416 people on the Sex Offenders’ Register.
Just such a scheme operates in America, however, where it is known as Megan’s Law after Megan Kanka, seven, who was killed by a neighbour in 1994.
In states such as California, a website run by the authorities lists the names, addresses and “detailed personal profiles” of all 63,000 registered sex offenders. Members of the public can log on to the website and search their own neighbourhood, or anywhere in the state, for the specific location of offenders.
The American scheme has been criticised because some paedophiles have been attacked by vigilante groups. Ministers believe the US scheme has not been effective and has driven some offenders underground.
In Britain, a national campaign to provide parents with information about local child abusers began after Sarah Payne was abducted and murdered by Roy Whiting. He had been released from prison after serving a jail sentence for indecently assaulting a girl.
Whiting’s was a stranger crime, but nine out of 10 sex abuse crimes are carried out by someone who is known to the child.
Ministers say the new scheme represents a major step forward in protecting the public from sexual predators. They insist criminal sanctions will be applied to those who abuse it.