Fears as sex offender unit near schools

TWO HOSTELS licensed to house sex offenders are within a mile of ten primary schools in Ipswich it can be revealed today.Rumours began to circulate following an article in a national newspaper and Suffolk Probation Service has today confirmed that a hostel near Foxhall Road and one near Norwich Road are approved premises to house sex offenders.

TWO HOSTELS licensed to house sex offenders are within a mile of ten primary schools in Ipswich it can be revealed today.

Rumours began to circulate following an article in a national newspaper and Suffolk Probation Service has today confirmed that a hostel near Foxhall Road and one near Norwich Road are approved premises to house sex offenders.

There are seven primary schools within a mile of the one near Foxhall Road and three within a mile of the hostel near Norwich Road.

The revelation emerged despite Home Secretary John Reid declaring that paedophiles would no longer be accommodated near schools.

The Home Office removed 11 premises from its approved list but these were only buildings directly next to schools and not those situated close to schools.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “The Home Secretary has instructed that sex offenders are not in accommodation adjacent to schools.

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“The Home Office and criminal justice system are looking to balance things in favour of the victim.

“I wouldn't rule it out that other hostels will be looked at.”

But one Ipswich grandmother who lives in the area has spoken of her concerns at the news.

The 58-year-old woman, whose grandchildren attend Clifford Road Primary School, near one of the hostels, said she did not believe sex offenders should be allowed to live in the community.

She said: “There are so many schools in that area and when you find out about this you don't feel you can trust anyone. I know one person who says she can't even let her children out to play now.

“It is worrying me and my daughter. They (the hostels) are all close to schools and in populated areas and it is not on really.”

Kevan Lim, Suffolk county councillor for St Helen's the area where one of the hostels is located, said a member of the public had contacted him raising concerns over the hostel.

He said: “Most people aren't aware that these locations are there until an issue arises. At any point in time it might well be that there are none of them (sex offenders) there.”

He said that although a review was taking place into hostels, Home Office guidance suggests licensed hostels should not be within less than half a mile of schools.

Mr Lim said: “This is not something that concerns me. I, like everyone else, would be concerned if there were premises right next to schools but neither of these are in that situation.

“Offenders have to be placed somewhere when they are released to help them back into the community. We can't lock them up and throw away the key.

“If people think my views are unreasonable they should know I live near one of the units and I am as sensitive as anyone on this.”

The revelation about Ipswich's hostels emerged as the Home Office announced new plans to look into the possibility of “Sarah's Law” which would allow parents to know the whereabouts of known sex offenders.

Named in memory of murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne, the law is based on a similar system which operates in the United States.

n. Do you think people should be informed as a matter of course or should offenders be allowed to rehabilitate anonymously in society after they have served their time?

n.The Evening Star investigated the situation after rumours began in the area. We came to the decision that people should be aware that a hostel that is licensed to hold sex offenders is located in the area. However we have decided not to print the exact location to avoid any possible public order disturbances. See Opinion page four.

SUFFOLK Probation Service today backed the use of hostels as a means of housing sex offenders and said public protection was paramount.

A spokesman for the service said approved premises were staffed 24 hours a day and provide a much more structured and supervised environment for offenders than living independently in the community.

He said: “It is our view that the approved premises offer a well-supervised option for the effective management of offenders, in which public protection is pursued rigorously and jointly with the police and other agencies.”

The spokesman said headteachers are aware of the hostel and are contacted by letter to provide reassurance that, if there are concerns about people, the Probation Service will provide advice.

He added: “Prior to residents being admitted to the approved premises they are assessed as to their suitability for residence and this will involve a full assessment of any risks they pose particularly with regard to risks to the public.

“Following these assessments some offenders are not offered places because of concerns about the risks they pose.”

Multi-Agency Public Protection Panels are also in place where representatives of all relevant criminal justice and community organisations in the area come together to devise a plan to manage the offender effectively and provide support to any victims in the case.

Once resident in hostels, offenders can expect strict rules which, if broken, can lead to the offender being taken into custody.

These include an 11pm to 7pm curfew which is more restrictive if deemed necessary, random drug and alcohol testing and strict conditions on behaviour in the neighbourhood.

Hostels have alarmed doors and CCTV and offenders are regularly monitored.

For advice, contact the Probation Service on 01473 408130.

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