The BBC Shared Data Unit has revealed that hundreds of sex offenders across the UK have gone missing or are wanted for arrest in the past three years. The Freedom of Information requests sent to 45 police forces revealed 729 sex offenders had gone missing or were wanted for arrest from 2019-2021. In response to this, MP Sarah Champion has called for a new law to be introduced to prevent offenders from changing their names and escaping the authorities.
The BBC Shared Data Unit also found that almost 1,500 registered sex offenders had notified police forces of lawful name changes. The campaign group, the Safeguarding Alliance, has raised the scale of this issue since 2019. Critics say the current law is too easy to bypass as it places the onus on offenders to report changes in their circumstances. The costs range from £42 for an enrolled deed poll, where the applicant’s new name is added to public records, or £15 for an unenrolled deed poll, which only requires two witnesses.
Chief Constable Michelle Skeer said that while anyone can change their name, these additional legislative obligations were monitored closely. Abuse survivors have called on the government to ban sex offenders from changing their names once they are added to the register. Della Wright, who was abused at the age of six, said the system is “far too simplistic” and “open to abuse”.
If someone is added to the Sex Offenders Register, they are required to provide certain personal details to the police, including their name, any aliases they have been known by, their current address and passport details. They have to visit a police station annually to comply with notification requirements, and to inform the authorities of any change to personal details. If any of these personal details change, they must notify the police within three days or offenders can face up to five years in prison.
Donald Findlater, director at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation charity, which is dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse, said some offenders changed their name to build a better life and not offend in future, or to “protect their family from the stigma of their identity”. He said the 1,500 sex offenders who notified police forces of lawful name changes was “exactly as it should be” because they followed the rules.
The BBC’s Freedom of Information requests also highlighted other issues over the same three-year period: there had been more than 5,500 offences committed by sex offenders of failing to comply with notification requirements such as not telling police they were living in a household with a child; the Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) found 2,190 applicants for checks had criminal records and they had supplied incorrect or missed out personal details such as past names or aliases; and 6,740 prosecutions began over the past three financial years for offences by sex offenders of breaches of a sexual harm prevention order or interim order.
The Home Office said ministers were considering both reports into the scale and nature of offenders changing their name but have not published the findings yet. They have strengthened their regime for managing offenders through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act which made it easier to impose restrictions via civil orders called Sexual Harm Prevention Orders for anyone convicted or cautioned for a sexual or violent offence. Courts can also impose Sexual Risk Orders which can be applied to any individual shown to pose a risk of sexual harm in the UK or abroad.
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this story help and support is available via the BBC Action Line.