Failure to Close Child Abductor Loophole

The Government has failed to close a loophole that allows people convicted of trying to abduct children to avoid being placed on the sex offenders’ register, despite being alerted to the problem five years ago, writes Ben Leapman. Criminals found guilty of trying to snatch children are kept off the register because abduction is not regarded in law as a sex crime. The Home Office was told about the loophole and said it would be closed in 2001, yet no action has been taken.

The failure means that Terry Delaney, 52, serving four years for trying to snatch 13-year-old Natalie Hick from a bus stop in October last year, will not be placed on the register when he is freed from prison. And Gary Brown, 34, who served a 12-month sentence for the attempted abduction of an 11-year-old girl in 2003, is already out of prison and is free to mix with children.

Campaigners against child abuse accused the Government of failing victims. Shy Keenan, who set up Phoenix Survivors, met Home Office officials last month to demand action.

She said: “Judges need to have the right to put people who attempt to abduct children on the sex offenders’ register if they deem it fit.” Natalie, who has waived her right to anonymity, said: “He should go on the register so he can’t meet other children when he comes out. It was horrible, and I don’t want to bump into him again.”

The register holds 30,000 names but does not include people convicted of abduction or attempted abduction unless they have also been convicted of a sex offence. In 2001, the Home Office admitted in a consultation paper that “the court should have discretion to decide in an individual case whether or not an offence was sexually motivated”, in which case the perpetrator would be added to the register.

Yet in 2003, when other proposals in the paper were enacted into law, the proposal on abduction was quietly shelved. Ministers have pledged to reconsider the issue. Judge Paul Hoffman, on sentencing Delaney to four years for attempted abduction, had no powers to put him on the sex offenders’ register and said: “It makes no sense to me. It is obviously an anomaly.”

The victim’s mother, June Hick, told The Press in York: “She still feels frightened, but when Delaney is released from prison he will be able to walk free.”

Gary Brown spotted his 11-year-old victim outside a London Underground station. He pretended to be a police officer and ordered her into a phone box, but a shopkeeper saw she was distressed and intervened. Brown was jailed in 2004 for attempted abduction and theft. He had a conviction for indecent assault against two teenage girls but the offence was in 1997, before the register came into force in that year, so he is not liable for inclusion on it. He is now living in the community, free from restrictions.

The 2003 Sexual Offences Act gave powers to judges to issue a sexual offences prevention order, adding an individual to the register, when handing down sentences in cases of sexually motivated murder, manslaughter, wounding or grievous bodily harm. But abduction was not included. Criminal record checks reveal the listing to prospective employers.

Gerry Sutcliffe, a Home Office minister, visited America last month to research Megan’s Law, which gives the public the right to know where sex offenders live. Ministers may seek a compromise which makes limited information available to parents or community leaders who raise specific concerns about named individuals.