28 April 2005

S2M-2573 Managing Sex Offenders

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 28 April 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

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Managing Sex Offenders

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2573, in the name of Paul Martin, on reviewing arrangements for managing sex offenders. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that, following the murder of eight-year-old Mark Cummings by registered sex offender, Stuart Leggate, there is a requirement for a root-and-branch review of how registered sex offenders are monitored and managed in the community; believes that the current sentencing policy for dealing with registered child sex offenders is grossly inadequate and requires review, that it is not acceptable that registered sex offenders are able to legally act under an alias identity and that the current housing allocation policies for dealing with registered child sex offenders present a serious risk to local communities; considers that an inquiry should be held into the events leading up to the murder of Mark Cummings; believes that the Scottish Executive should, as a matter of urgency, bring forward measures that will ensure that the risk to our children posed by registered child sex offenders is radically minimised, and commends the News of the World for its campaign in raising the awareness of the need to introduce legislation to manage registered sex offenders more effectively.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I extend my thanks to Paul Martin for giving us the opportunity to debate a difficult and important subject. I also extend my commiserations and those of my party to the Cummings family on the situation in which they find themselves, and I commend their dignity under that provocation.

We must be careful with some of the things that we think about. We must manage sex offenders such as Leggate better on their release, and Paul Martin has mentioned quite a few things that would be useful, but we must not imagine that that is enough. It is not.

If we look at conviction rates and the experience that comes from a variety of sources, we realise that we have probably convicted only one in 10 of the sex offenders who are out there. Of all crimes, it is a particularly hidden crime, so we must protect our children not just from those whom we already know to be sex offenders because they have been convicted, but from those who are yet to be revealed as sex offenders.

That means that we all have to think about how we can protect our children and educate them to recognise problems, to help their peer group and to bring the necessary information to the attention of those who can take action. I myself was aware of a sex offender when I was a wee bairn, because my father, as a general practitioner, treated a sex offender who had yet to be convicted but who he was utterly convinced was a problem. I shall name him. He was Christopher Milne, the son of A A Milne—Christopher Robin in the books. He was a patient of my father, and his upbringing and the effect of what his father had done in writing about him was said to have been one of the factors in his becoming a paedophile.

There are one or two interesting things about the Leggate case. I understand from my sources that prison staff were pretty clear that Leggate had a high risk of reoffending, but that information does not seem to have permeated down to anyone who might have taken action. I was disappointed to hear that councils and police are not getting such information. I have to say that I believe that information is actually being passed on in Aberdeenshire. That can happen, and in some parts of the country there are mechanisms for making it happen. Indeed, I am consulted, as are other elected representatives, about the matter, and I know how many sex offenders there are in the different communities. I can help the police and the council with the information that comes to my attention. I do not know the names or addresses, but I know what is going on in general terms.

There are a couple of challenging ideas that we might think about. Megan's law is all very well, but given the number of sex offenders who are out there house surveys would always say, "There are sex offenders in the area." That is a real difficulty.

In Canada there are what appear to be successful schemes for befriending sex offenders and ensuring that they are socially related and adhered to someone in the community. I understand that the Quakers in England are running a similar trial. I do not think that that is a magic bullet by any manner of means, but I certainly think that we should consider trying what is being tried elsewhere and see whether it has any application in Scotland.

The real issue, particularly with paedophiles but perhaps less so with rapists, is with sex offenders' mental processes and their whole view of the world. Programmes in prison can help to make them aware of that problem, although they cannot change their behaviour, and can help them to detect when they are going to reoffend. They have distorted thinking and will have it all their lives. Perhaps we should release those people only when we can prove that it is actually safe to do so. Sentences for people with psychological problems and distorted thinking are perhaps not the right way of dealing with them, even though locking them up is.


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