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A “chilling” loophole that law allows registered sex offenders to change their names needs to be closed, British MPs have warned.
In the House of Commons on Thursday, Labour MP Sarah Champion warned that British law currently leaves “the onus entirely on the offender to self-report changes in their personal information.”
Champion raised concerns that sex offenders are ignoring requirements to notify the police of any name change. With a new name, sex offenders can apply for a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check which would not disclose their previous offences.
“If the sex offender breaches these requirements and therefore faces prison, they must first be caught,” she added.
The DBS is a part of the UK Home Office responsible for safeguarding, which enables employers to check criminal records of job applicants.
Registered Sex Offenders
Champion added it was “most chilling” that a sex offender’s new name could allow them to apply for a new passport and driving licence, which in turn would allow them to apply for a “clean DBS check in that new name.”
The Labour MP said that recent data show the true scale of the issue.
She said: “Data which I and others have collated shows the scale of this issue is breathtaking. The Home Office confirmed in responses to my written parliamentary questions that over 16,000 offenders were charged with a breach of their notification requirements between 2015 and 2020. Those breaches are likely to have been for name changes or other such changes.
“It is clear that offenders are changing their names and not disclosing their new name to the police, but the exact scale of the problem remains impossible to capture. It is important to emphasise that these are only the cases we know about: Many more offenders could have breached their notification requirements without the police’s knowledge.”
She added that over 700 registered sex offenders have gone missing within the last three years. “It is highly likely that they breached their notification requirements without getting caught, making them an active risk to the public,” she said.
“Unless this loophole is closed, it makes a nonsense of the schemes the public rely on to detect offenders. For example, the sex offenders register, the child sex offenders disclosure system, the domestic violence disclosure scheme, and the Disclosure and Barring Service all rely on having the correct name,” said Champion.
Conservative MP Lucy Allan raised the case of a child sex offender sentenced to 15 years in jail who changed his name by deed poll and his gender identity from a man to a woman.
Allan said it is feared the new identity “erases the terrible harm he did” and cannot be linked on official records, adding the offender will be “afforded enhanced rights of privacy that should never, ever be afforded to a serious child sex offender.”
The women’s rights group Keep Prison Single Sex was mentioned during the debate.
Founder Kate Coleman has warned that criminal record checks may be compromised as a result of a “safeguarding loophole” called the Sensitive Applications route that allows transgender people to conceal past identities, birth names, and gender from future employers. The right to conceal previous identities is not given to anyone else.
“It’s incredibly important that we draw attention to the ability of registered sex offenders to change their name by deed poll and their sex offending risks,” Coleman told The Epoch Times.
She added that the ability of sex offenders to change their gender through self-ID “creates additional safeguarding loopholes which are really scary, and it needs to be taken seriously.”
Joanna Cherry, an MP from the Scottish National Party, said those who change their gender when changing identity have “enhanced privacy rights” in the DBS process, adding: “The result is that identity verification is compromised, meaning that there’s no guarantee that the information returned during the check and displayed on the certificate will be accurate or complete.
“These exceptional privacy rights also allow an applicant who has changed gender to request that all their previous names are withheld from the DBS certificate that is issued and this right to conceal previous identities is not given to anybody else, and disclosing your previous identity is a key component of safeguarding—and DBS certificates issued to other individuals display all other names the applicant has used.”
Cherry said she accepted there would have been good reasons for this privacy requirement, saying, “I hasten to add that I am completely in favour of equal rights for trans people, but I’m not in favour of the system that allows sex offenders to exploit the principle of self-declaration to evade the safeguarding process.”
Conservative MP Mark Fletcher said it feels like “we are prioritising the rights of sexual offenders over the rights of the general public.”
Home Office minister Sarah Dines said, “Public protection and safety is our number one priority, and we are committed to ensuring that the police and other agencies have more and better tools to assist them to more effectively manage registered sex offenders.”
PA Media contributed to this report.