Outrage at SNP government inaction on child protection policy

Outrage at SNP government inaction on child protection policy

SNP MINISTERS have ignored a catalogue of expert recommendations designed to keep Scotland’s children safe from sex offenders.

Sat, Mar 12, 2016

Nationalist MSP Kenny MacAskill

Nationalist MSP Kenny MacAskill

A succession of inquiries into crimes that shocked the nation proposed measures to help reduce the risk posed by paedophiles and rapists placed in our communities.But even though the government pledged to take action, the Scottish Sunday Express can reveal the 12 broken promises that remain unfulfilled.They include satellite tracking and mandatory treatment for high-risk registered sex offenders (RSOs) and warning the public when the most dangerous of all refuse to co-operate or go missing.Alarmingly, some of the recommendations have been rejected because they might interfere with criminals’ human rights.

It’s hurtful and soul-destroying to think that their sympathy and promises were empty

Margaret-Ann Cummings

Last night, campaigners branded the revelations a “betrayal” and called on the Scottish Government to take immediate action.Margaret-Ann Cummings – the murder of whose eight-year-old son Mark in 2004 triggered eight of the recommendations – said: “This has come as a shock.“I’ve had politicians look me in the eye and tell me these recommendations would happen and the Scottish Government has said time and again that 31 are in place and it will soon be 32.“It’s hurtful and soul-destroying to think that their sympathy and promises were empty.

“There’s been a complete lack of leadership. These recommendations were about spotting weaknesses in the system and closing the loopholes that sex offenders look for and exploit.

“Things like mandatory treatment and GPS tracking are in place and making a difference around the world. Why not Scotland? Why not now?

“And it’s harrowing to think it’s been 15 years since it was recommended that RSOs are kept away from living in high-rise flats – three years before Mark was murdered – and it’s still happening.”

Mark Cummings was molested, beaten and strangled then his body dumped down a rubbish chute by serial sex offender Stuart Leggate, 27, a neighbour in the same Glasgow block of flats.

He had been jailed for four years for a campaign of abuse against a toddler plus attacks against a girl aged seven and a ten-year-old boy.

But when freed, the high-risk RSO was rehoused in Glasgow under a false name among vulnerable young families.

Mrs Cummings raised a petition calling for reform to the Scottish Parliament, which set up a special cross-party panel of MSPs. The Justice 2 Sub-committee delivered its 33 recommendations in December 2006.

Nationalist MSP Kenny MacAskill – who sat on the panel and became justice secretary within months of the report’s publication – said the SNP government was “focused on delivering the recommendations”.

And SNP ministers regularly claim to have implemented all but two of them with one more in the pipeline.

But, a decade on, we can reveal that nearly a quarter of the measures have still not been put in place.

Another four from the Cosgrove Report (2001), the Irving Report (2005) and a Significant Case Review (SCR) dating back to 2012 have also been left to lie.

Three of them – which would have forced RSOs to tell landlords they’re on the sex offenders’ register; allowed for the most dangerous to be retrospectively sentenced to lifelong supervision and informed communities if they go on the run – have been turned down to protect perverts’ human rights.

Another to insist that volatile sex offenders undergo treatment before their release is already in place in the US and Western Australia – but still not in Scotland.

And a string of other proposals – including informing the public of RSOs on the loose; ensuring they receive therapy when needed; are housed safely and a number concerning the collation and monitoring of data – remain on the drawing board.

Paul Martin – the Labour MSP for Glasgow Provan who has helped Mrs Cummings’ continuing campaign – said: “It’s totally unacceptable for ministers and civil servants to be cherry-picking the will of Parliament and advice of experts in this way.

“This complacency is a betrayal of every community and family in Scotland.

“The Scottish Government has allowed itself to be cowed by the human rights lobby and put the feelings and privacy of the most dangerous criminals on the planet ahead of our children’s right to life.

“This shows just how haphazard policy is in this area.

“It’s time justice secretary Michael Matheson got a grip on his brief and took responsibility.

“The time for warm words, kind concern and sympathetic words for victims is gone; the case for radical reform is now unanswerable.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Fergusson – who also sat on the Justice 2 Sub-committee – said: “It is disturbing to discover that a substantial number of these recommendations have been allowed to fall by the wayside without discussion or warning.

“Ministers must now explain to MSPs and to Margaret-Ann Cummings why they have chosen to ignore the recommendations of Parliament on such an important matter.”

Scotland has nearly 5,100 RSOs, with just over 3,900 are living in the community, and around 400 of them are subject to additional monitoring because of the extra risk they pose.

But as numbers climb ever higher, some councils claim they’re running out of cash to deal with them, with high-risk offenders being parked on waiting lists to receive treatment.

Critics of the current system – which relies on RSOs in the community being protected by a veil of secrecy – fear it is being swamped, making it more difficult to monitor the most dangerous sex offenders.

There has been a string of cases in recent years where, faced with volatile and determined offenders, the system has failed time and again.

In 2009, Ryan Yates, 33, knifed a pensioner in a bid to abduct and abuse her grandchildren as they walked in an Aberdeen park only days after he’d been released from jail.

An SCR into the case, published in 2012, suggested that high-risk RSOs should be GPS tagged so their movements can be restricted and followed in real time.

But despite SNP ministers announcing on five separate occasions that satellite tracking is on the cards, still no decision has been taken.

In all, over the last 20 years, there have been seven major reports and nine SCRs – making 359 recommendations – about how to deal with RSOs.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland’s system of monitoring sex offenders is among the most robust anywhere in the world.

“Under the system, all offenders are assessed and law enforcement agencies are then able to use a range of measures including surveillance, electronic tagging, curfews and banning offenders from certain areas or from contacting certain people.

“We now have more measures in place than ever before to protect children.

“Our top priority is keeping the public safe and we remain committed to the continual improvement of the management of offenders.”



* = Scottish Sunday Express comment.

Italics = Scottish Government response

Justice 2 Sub-committee (2006)


1. Force sex offenders who pose a serious risk to undergo treatment or stay behind bars.

* In US and Western Australia, dangerous RSOs can be committed indefinitely for treatment if a court rules they’re still a danger. 

A new sentence – the Order of Lifelong Restriction (OLR) – was introduced in 2006, which allows dangerous RSOs to be kept in jail if judged a risk.

2. RSOs should have to tell landlords they’re on the register – a crime if they keep it secret. 

* Unstable sex offender Kevin Rooney, 28, was wrongly placed in a bed-and-breakfast by Edinburgh council in 2011. Landlady Wendy Halstead later claimed she wouldn’t have taken him in had she known he was an RSO. Rooney raped and murdered grandmother Rosina Sutherland, 74.

Can’t implement – this would breach sex offenders’ right to a private life.”

3. Dangerous RSOs who don’t co-operate or abscond should have their details publicised.

* Not done regularly even though absconders tend to be caught quickly when public eventually alerted. Last April, high-risk Mark Hudgell, 31, vanished from Lincolnshire while awaiting sentence for grooming a child. Officers down south warned the English public he could strike again. Hunt spread north because of Edinburgh connection – but Scots not told. Hudgell arrested in East Lothian six days later – then walked free from court following a legal bungle. For a second time, Police Scotland kept quiet and he was only caught in his hometown when locals told to keep an eye out for him.

Occasionally done but only as last resort because it might prevent a fair trial. Decision up to police and Crown Office.”

4. Ministers should ensure adequate resources for therapy programmes.

* RSOs in Glasgow, Edinburgh, North Lanarkshire and Fife – all elevated risk – on waiting lists for treatment scheme last year. Councils claimed not enough cash to employ staff. Colyn Evans, 17, murdered Karen Dewar, 16, in Tayport, Fife, in 2005 after not getting treatment due to staff shortages. Also, missed chances to treat Rooney (see above) and James Campbell, 19, who abducted a baby and tried to rape her in Coatbridge in 2004.

“We give councils £2.48 million a year for treatment programmes; their responsibility to ensure RSOs are treated.”

5. Make the Violent and Sex Offender Register database (ViSOR) easily accessible to social work, prison and health officials who deal with RSOs.

* Nine years on, recent MAPPA review said this still not done and recommended Scottish Government fix it.

“Police Scotland owns the database and we’ll work with the force to make changes.”

6. New warning system for RSOs where behaviour giving concern – numbers of warnings should be published annually to show risk levels.

* This has never been done.

“Warnings are handed out to RSOs but we publish other similar figures instead.”

7. Numbers of formal disclosures of RSOs’ identities – where danger of secrecy was judged too great – to be published annually.

* It used to be done but then Scottish Government stopped asking police for the figures in 2011.

“We publish other similar figures. MAPPA system has evolved – parents can now apply to know if someone with access to their child is an RSO.”

8. Monitor the success of these measures.

* Impossible as they’ve never been implemented.

“There was a MAPPA review last year.”

Cosgrove Report (2001 – in the text but not a formal recommendation)

9. RSOs should not be routinely housed in tower blocks.

* Mark Cummings murdered in 2004 by Glasgow high-rise neighbour Stuart Leggate; George Cameron, 68, raped a four-year-old boy who was moved onto same landing in Glasgow flats in 2012. Latest data suggests it’s still happening. 

“Housing decisions made on case-by-case basis to minimise risk – but no restriction on type of accommodation. Councils often have few choices.”

Irving Report (2005)

10. RSOs should tell police about change of address in advance but no later than 24 hours after.

* Current limit remains three days. 

“Homeless RSOs must now report to police weekly instead of annually.”

Yates SCR (2012)

11. OLRs to be imposed retrospectively on those who pose very high risk.

* May have stopped Yates’ attack.

“Can’t implement – would breach sex offenders’ human rights and Scots law principle of being sentenced only once.”

12. Global Positioning System tagging of high-risk RSOs.

* Ministers have announced plans five times but no action.

“Working group still looking at it – due to report early 2016.”



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