Clause 141 - Locations for sexual offender notification

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 17th June 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clauses 142 and 143 stand part.

New clause 65—Registered sex offenders: change of name or identity—

“(1) The Secretary of State must commission a review of how registered sex offenders are able to change their name or other aspects of their identity without the knowledge of the police with the intention of subverting the purpose of their registration.

(2) The review must consult persons with expertise in this issue, including—

(a) representatives of police officers responsible for sex offender management,

(b) Her Majesty’s Passport Office, and

(c) the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

(3) The scope of the review must include consideration of resources necessary for the long-term management of the issue of registered sex offenders changing their names or other aspects of their identity.

(4) The review must make recommendations for the long-term management of the issue of registered sex offenders changing their names or other aspects of their identity.

(5) The Secretary of State must report the findings of this review to Parliament within 12 months of the day on which this Act is passed.”

This new clause would ensure that the Secretary of State must publish a review into how registered sex offenders are changing their names or other aspects of their identity and propose solutions for how the government aims to tackle this issue.

I remind the Committee that if the Whip is seeking to adjourn at 1 o’clock, he will not be able to interrupt a speaker, so if we are going to proceed with that, we will need whoever is speaking to finish just before 1 pm so the Whip can do what he might wish to do.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I wonder whether it would be convenient for the hon. Member for Rotherham to speak?

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

It would be convenient—thank you. It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe.

I found a very real problem that I did not know existed. I have spoken to a number of Ministers in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice about it, and they all recognise that it is a real problem. I am seeking, through new clause 65, to get a review into how registered sex offenders are changing their names, and in doing so, are slipping under the radar with some absolutely devastating consequences.

Currently, all registered sex offenders are legally required to notify the police of any changes in their personal details, including names and addresses. Those notification requirements are incredibly weak, however, and place the onus entirely on the sex offender to report changes in their personal information. I would like to say that, by their very nature, sex offenders tend to be incredibly sneaky and used to subterfuge, so the likelihood of them actively notifying their police officer is quite slender.

At this point, I would like to mention the crucial work that has been carried out by those at the Safeguarding Alliance, who identified this issue four years ago and alerted me to it. They have an upcoming report, from which I will use just one case as an example. It is the case of a woman called Della Wright, the ambassador for the Safeguarding Alliance, who is a survivor of child sexual abuse. She has bravely chosen to speak out and to tell her story, which is symptomatic of that of so many other survivors who have been impacted by the serious safeguarding loophole.

When Della was between six and seven years old, a man came to live in her home and became one of her primary carers. He went on to commit the most heinous of crimes, and was free to sexually abuse Della at will. Years later, Della reported the abuse in 2007 and again in 2015. Then it quickly become apparent that the person in question was already known to the police. He had gone on to commit many further sexual offences against an undisclosed number of victims. During this time, Della was made aware that his name had changed. It has since been identified that he has changed his name at least five times, enabling him to relocate under the radar and evade justice. When Della’s case was finally brought to court, he was once again allowed to change his name, this time between being charged and appearing in court for the planned hearing. That slowed down the whole court process, adding additional stress to Della, and made a complete mockery, I may say, of the justice system.

While the loophole exists, Della’s abuser is free to change his name as often as he likes, including from prison.

If a sex offender changes their name, they must tell the police within three days or they face up to five years in prison. For the sex offender to face that time in prison, they must first be caught and therein lies the nub of the problem. The loophole means that sex offenders are changing their names and the police are unaware of it, and therefore the sex offender goes under the police’s radar.

Once they get a new name, the sex offender can get a Disclosure and Barring Service check, as the new name would not flag up their previous offences. They can then go on to secure jobs working with children and vulnerable people, putting those people at risk of sexual exploitation by an individual who has been punished for that crime.

In response to my written parliamentary question, the Government confirmed that more than 16,000 offenders have breached their notification requirement in the past five years. A freedom of information request carried out by the Safeguarding Alliance confirmed that at least 905 registered sex offenders had gone missing between 2017 and 2020. Only 16 of the 43 police forces responded to that request, so the actual number will be much higher. There are currently 100,000 sex offenders on the register.

We can surmise that the main reason why offenders have gone missing is because they have changed their name. Notification requirements as they currently stand are not an efficient way of monitoring sex offenders. They have already been to prison for sexual offences and are likely to lie to the police in order to reoffend.

The current name-change process is unbelievably easy. Adults can get a name change registered at the Royal Courts of Justice in a few days for £42.44. That is an enrolled deed poll and requires the applicant to fill out three forms, but none of the forms asks the applicant whether they have a criminal history of any kind. In addition, legally, there is nothing to stop anyone from using the do-it-yourself deed poll, by simply writing down their new name in the presence of two witnesses. I find that staggering. Using that approach, some sex offenders are able to change their names from prison for as little as a £15 administration fee.

Police have the powers to put a marker on the file of sex offenders at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency or Her Majesty’s Passport Office, so that, if a name change comes up through their systems, the police would be informed. This is useful, as a driver’s licence or a passport is required for a DBS check. It is worth noting, though, that DBS does not undertake any background checks on whether a name change has occurred. It is only the link with the Passport Office, if fraud is found.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby 12:45 pm, 17th June 2021

I am astounded to hear what the hon. Lady is saying. Do similar checks take place when people get married, as there is quite a trend towards new, double-barrelled surnames? Is that a similar loophole that people could use?

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I do not know the specifics, but I do know a friend whose husband cheated on her, who wanted to change her name before the divorce came through. She used the £15 option; it is just filling out a form and paying the money.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Chief Whip

I would raise a further point. One of the aspects of denial among sex offenders is that they put a psychological distance between themselves and the offence on conviction. That is a subtle driver for people to change their names, quite apart from the wish to offend again and not be detected.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

The hon. Gentleman makes a really interesting point on the psychology, which I had not considered. He is absolutely right.

If the name-change process was well joined up, it would stop the sex offender from successfully receiving a DBS check. Current guidance means that the police can only do that in certain cases—for example, for sex offenders they believe to be at risk of changing their identity or who work in a profession where they have regular contact with vulnerable people. As far as I am concerned, that would be the definition of all sex offenders. The police are encouraged to limit their inquiries to these agencies to avoid unnecessary or high volumes of requests to them.

The guidance states that

“to avoid unnecessary or high volumes of requests to these agencies, enquiries should be limited” to cases where risk factors apply. I believe that the police should be able to do this for all sex offenders.

The Government have recognised that this is an issue. In response to an e-petition, the Minister said that the Government would like to change the guidance so that only enrolled deed polls are seen as an official name change. This is still concerning, as an enrolled deed poll means that the individual’s old name, new name and address appear in the London Gazette. I ask Committee members to imagine they were fleeing domestic violence and wanted to change their name. How would they feel, knowing that that was going to be broadcast in a place where their abuser would be sure to look?

My suggestion is for all sex offenders to have a marker on their file at the DVLA and at Her Majesty’s Passport Office that would mean that would be flagged on the DBS database. That would remove the onus from the sex offender so that if they breach their notification requirements, the police will know quickly. I accept that more resources would be needed for this to be effective, but surely it is worth more funding to prevent more adults and children from experiencing more traumatic abuse.

There needs be a full review to try to identify the gaps in safeguarding and ensure this cannot go on any longer. New clause 65 is supported by over 35 MPs from across the House, including the Chair of the Education Committee, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), and the former Brexit Secretary, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis).

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Policing)

Does the hon. Lady agree that if the provision had been in place in 2002, it could have prevented the needless murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by Ian Huntley, who had changed his name prior to committing this offence?

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I absolutely agree. That is my frustration because when we look back at some of these high-profile cases, name changes have been common practice. This issue was also raised in the recent report by the Centre for Social Justice, “Unsafe Children.” The End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:

“It defies logic that this current system appears to rely on perpetrators of sexual offences identifying their own risk. Especially given that perpetrators are often highly manipulative and skilled at deceiving others and appearing ‘safe’.”

The new clause is not controversial. All I ask for is a review to find out what is going wrong. I do not know if other Members have signed up to receive notifications if a person of high risk is rehoused in their constituency. I receive such notifications, unfortunately quite regularly. In the most recent notification I had, there are 19 different specific licence conditions that the offender has to meet. One of them is to notify their supervising officer of details of any passport they may possess, including passport number, or any intention of applying for a new passport. However, there is no mention on that list of changing their name. That would seem to be a basic thing, so that at least the sex offender knows in advance that they have to notify the police, so it is a clear breach of conditions when they do not do that.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Tom Pursglove.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.