Manchester children may be at a heightened risk of harm from paedophiles as police fail to reveal how often they give information about sexual offenders to concerned parents, warns the NSPCC.
The national children’s charity submitted Freedom of Information requests to police forces across the country to find out how many ‘Sarah’s Law’ applications had been successful.
Sarah’s Law is the Child Sex Offenders Disclosure scheme, which came into force in 2011, following public outrage over the savage murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne.
It allows parents and others to ask police for details about individuals if they suspect they might harm children.
Greater Manchester Police have receive 199 applications by worried mums, dads and members of the public between 2011-2014 but failed to say how many have actually gone through – just one in six applications has been successful nationally.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “We are both disturbed and surprised by this wide discrepancy of figures across the country, revealing that there is a postcode lottery when it comes to how forces deal with Sarah’s Law.
“Families need to know if there are individuals in their area who pose a risk to children.
“How can you expect parents to make the right choices in order to protect their children if they don’t know who is a threat?”
The new figures reveal wide variation in the proportion of disclosures made by different police, indicating a post code lottery when it comes to responding to public concerns.
Warwickshire Police gave information about people who pose a risk to children in less than 10% of applications (six out of 59).
Suffolk Police disclosed information they held for around a third of applications (31 out of 93 made).
Meanwhile Sussex Police, the force who investigated Sarah Payne’s murder, gave out information for only 7% of applications (14 out of 193 applications).
Mr Wanless said: “The police need to be proactive in empowering communities to protect vulnerable children.
“The wide variation in disclosure numbers doesn’t breed confidence that the scheme is being understood or applied consistently and that is a concern.
“While there may be very good reasons for not disclosing information held to applicants, some forces seem to be too cautious which could put children at serious risk of harm.
“We need to see regular independent evaluation of this vital law to make sure it’s working as it should.”
The charity’s FOI request found that across England and Wales, just 16% of applications under the scheme were successful – with vast variations in the number of police disclosures from force to force.
In total 5,357 applications were made to 33 forces but only 877 applications resulted in disclosures being made.
Five other forces said they had received 908 applications but did not provide information about disclosure numbers.
The figures come just weeks after the NSPCC’s State of the Nation report showed a dramatic increase in child sexual abuse being reported to police, with three offences committed against children every hour.