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Sex Offender Escape (HMP Prescoed)

Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the incident on 6 October when a convicted sex offender absconded from open conditions at HMP Prescoed near Usk; what assessment of risk was made of the prisoner (a) when he was transferred to HMP Prescoed and (b) after he absconded from HMP Prescoed; and what advice was given to local schools following the incident. [192865]

Paul Goggins: It is not the Government's policy to comment on individual prisoners. I can confirm that a prisoner did abscond from Prescoed prison 6 October. He was apprehended the following evening a short distance from the prison. Prior to his transfer from Usk prison to Prescoed he was assessed by a multi-agency public protection panel as presenting a low risk of re-offending. That assessment remained valid after his abscond and there is no evidence that he offended while
 
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at large. The police revised their assessment once he was at large and said, as is usual, that he should not be approached. The local education authority decided to advise schools to ensure that children were escorted to and from schools in the area. All the relevant agencies are in discussions to ensure that, should a further abscond of a sex offender take place, the local community receives appropriate advice.

Sex Offenders

Alistair Burt: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether it is his policy to apply for full planning permission from local authorities in relation to the location of new sex offender treatment centres; and if he will make a statement. [195748]

Paul Goggins: The provision of any new residential sex offender treatment centres will comply with planning law. It is anticipated that applications will be submitted to the appropriate local authority before any final decision is taken.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment has been made of the reasons why convicted sex offenders choose not to participate in the Sex Offender Treatment Programme. [191685]

Paul Goggins: To inform policy and practice research has been undertaken into the reasons why offenders choose not to participate in the Sex Offender Treatment Programme in prison. Reasons for non-participation are complex but by far the most common reason is denial of guilt. Other reasons include a fear of disclosing the offence to other prisoners, the reaction of the family, concerns about what the treatment programme entails, the relationship with staff, and the prison environment. The Prison Service is implementing a strategy to address the issues identified by the research, with the aim of reducing significantly the numbers refusing treatment.

Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what advice was sought from the Children's Commissioner for Wales about the decision to transfer sex offenders to open conditions at HMP Prescoed; and if he will request an assessment of the risk to children from the Children's Commissioner. [195311]

Paul Goggins: All Sex Offenders who are transferred to HMP Prescoed are subject to a thorough risk assessment and have been judged suitable for open conditions by the Parole Board. The Children's Commissioner for Wales has been invited to visit HMP Prescoed. Should he take up that offer I would be happy to receive and consider his comments on the risk assessment process.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the legal definition is of a sex offender. [195495]

Paul Goggins: The term 'sex offender' is used in a variety of contexts—legal and otherwise—and there is not one legal definition.

Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 sets out 'relevant offenders' for the purposes of the notification requirements (section 80). The notification requirements are often known as the 'sex offenders register' but the term does not appear in the legislation.
 
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'Relevant offenders' for the purposes of the notification requirements are:

Section 327 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 sets out the 'relevant sexual or violent offenders' to whom the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements in section 325 apply. These include all of the 'registered sex offenders' and also all offenders who have received a conviction or finding for an offence listed in Schedule 15 to the Act and received a disposal to a certain threshold.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the terms of reference are for the interdepartmental ministerial group on sex offending. [191523]

Paul Goggins: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced his intention to establish the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Sexual Offending in July 2003. The Group has been set up to ensure that the implementation of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is incorporated into wider work in tackling sexual offending. The Group's terms of reference are:

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recommendations have been made by the interdepartmental ministerial group on sex offending as a result of their monitoring of the Press Complaints Commission regulations. [191525]

Paul Goggins: The Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Sexual Offending has not made any recommendations relating to the Press Complaints Commission regulations. The Group has considered preliminary arrangements for monitoring the impact of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and decided to assess the situation after a full year of operation, that is after May 2005. Among the matters it will be considering at that point will be the impact of the Press Complaints Commission regulations.

Sexual Offences

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what percentage of sex offence cases brought to court resulted in a conviction in each of the last five years. [196634]


 
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Paul Goggins: The available information, relating to defendants proceeded against and found guilty at all courts for sexual offences, England and Wales 1998 to 2002 is shown in the table. The conviction rate for all five years has also been provided.
Number of defendants proceeded against at magistrates' courts and found guilty at all courts for sexual offences, England and Wales 1998 to 2002 1

Proceeded againstFound guiltyConviction rate(55)
19987,7634,56759
19997,8174,30455
20007,2633,94354
20018,4244,04348
20029,1024,38448


(54) These data are on the principal offence basis.
(55) The proportion of defendants proceeded against who were found guilty.


Statistics on court proceedings for 2003 will be published on the 18 November.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether an assessment has been made of how suggestive interviewing, or the use of the recovered memories can lead to false allegations of sex offences against individuals. [196640]

Paul Goggins: The Home Office has not made a formal assessment of, or conducted research into whether suggestive interviewing or the use of recovered memories can lead to false allegations of sexual offences.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) National Investigative Interviewing Strategic Steering Group has developed and delivered a dynamic interview strategy which includes a Practical Guide to Investigative Interviewing 2004. Amongst other things, this highlights the dangers of suggestive interviewing. The Investigative Interviewing Strategy underpins training on effective interviewing for police of all levels, including specialist interviewers who are employed in cases involving traumatised victims or witnesses.

Complementary guidance on interviewing vulnerable or intimidated witnesses, which includes victims of sexual offences, is contained in "Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance for Vulnerable or Intimidated Witnesses, including Children" issued in January 2002. This guidance became operational in May 2002 when it superseded "Memorandum of Good Practice on Video Recorded Interviews with Child Witnesses for Criminal Proceedings". Achieving Best Evidence contains comprehensive guidance on planning and conducting interviews with vulnerable or intimidated witnesses and includes sections on style, content and types of questions.

This guidance document was produced as a result of a wider assessment by an interdepartmental working group of the treatment of vulnerable or intimidated witnesses, including the victims of sexual offences, in the criminal justice system. The working group's findings and recommendations were published in the Speaking Up For Justice report (Home Office, 1998).

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what guidelines have been issued on best practice in interviewing techniques for sex
 
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offence victims; what checks are in place to ensure that these techniques are used; and what estimate has been made of the percentage of interviews which deviate from this standard. [196641]

Paul Goggins: Guidance on interviewing vulnerable or intimidated witnesses, which includes victims of sexual offences, is contained in "Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance for Vulnerable or Intimidated Witnesses, including Children" issued in January 2002. This guidance became operational in May 2002 when it superseded "Memorandum of Good Practice on Video Recorded Interviews with Child Witnesses for Criminal Proceedings".

While this guidance is advisory and does not constitute a legally enforceable code of conduct, it warns that significant departures from the guidance may have to be justified in the courts.

It is a responsibility of statutory agencies involved in the interviewing of witnesses in criminal proceedings to ensure that appropriate techniques are used.

Information about the percentage of interviews which deviate from standard is not held centrally and this information could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps are being taken to encourage sex offence victims to (a) report their abuse and (b) act as a witness in court. [196644]

Paul Goggins: The Government have implemented a range of measures with a view to encouraging sex offence victims to report abuse and to act as a witness in court.

In 2002, the Government published their Rape Action Plan including steps to improve the investigation and prosecution of rape cases and the treatment of victims and witnesses. The intention is that these measures will help to bring more cases to justice, increase public confidence and consequently encourage victims to report their abuse. Key elements of the RAP include:

Guidance on special measures such as allowing victims to give their evidence from behind a screen, or on video, helping to sustain cases which would otherwise stand no chance of getting to court, and encourage victims to act as witnesses.

An important recommendation from the Rape Action Plan is that forces support the development of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs)—integrated services where victims of rape and sexual assault can have their various medical, forensic, counselling and support needs met quickly and sympathetically, in one location, by properly trained staff. A recent evaluation of SARCs (Home Office Research Study 285: Lovett, J., Regan, L. and Kelly, L. (2004),) reported high levels of victim satisfaction. While victims may use the services of a SARC without reporting to the police, they are encouraged to do so, and if they do not wish to report immediately, they are still able to undergo a forensic examination in case they decide to report at a later date.
 
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There are now 13 SARCs across England, with more under development. Over this and the next financial year, a proportion of the £4 million set aside from the Victims Fund for services to victims of sexual offending will help to extend and strengthen the SARCs network. Work is also underway to raise awareness about SARCs. If people who have been raped are confident that they will be treated with respect and dignity, they may be more likely to report to the police.

The remainder of the £4 million will be used to develop voluntary and community sector based services for victims of sexual offending. The services will be available regardless of whether a victim chooses to report the offence or testify in court but we hope more victims of sexual crime will have the confidence to report the offences and that more victims can be supported as their cases go through the criminal justice process.

Vulnerable or intimidated witnesses (VIWs) are being encouraged to testify by the range of special measures available to them under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. Home Office Research Study 283, "Are special measures working? Evidence from surveys of vulnerable and intimidated witnesses" (Home Office, June 2004) shows that:

Additional steps have been taken to ensure that victims and witnesses, more generally, are willing to give evidence in court. In 2003, the National Criminal Justice Board asked each Local Criminal Justice Board to undertake work to increase public confidence in the Criminal Justice System—one of the key issues being victim and witness satisfaction. This work continues and on Monday 18 October the Office of Criminal Justice Reform published the Victim and Witness Delivery Plan "Improving Services for Victims and Witnesses", setting out the Government's seven priorities for victims and witnesses.

Local Criminal Justice Boards are also delivering the Criminal Case Management Programme which will ensure that charges are more appropriately brought, that trials are more effectively managed and that witnesses and victims receive proper care and information.

Increased public confidence and better criminal case management will encourage more victims and witnesses to come forward and give evidence in court.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what alternatives to court attendance are available for witnesses in sex offence cases. [196645]

Paul Goggins: The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provides a range of measures to assist vulnerable or intimidated witnesses to give their best evidence. The special measures include video-recorded evidence in chief and live links. These provisions enable
 
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a witness to give their evidence from outside the courtroom and, in some cases, the witness may not have to attend the court building at all.

Sections 16 and 17 of the 1990 Act define the categories of witness eligible for special measures. Complainants in sexual offence proceedings are automatically eligible witnesses by virtue of section 17 unless they say that they do not want to be. All witnesses aged under 17 at the time of the hearing are automatically eligible witnesses by virtue of section 16. Other witnesses will be eligible for assistance if the court determines that the quality of their evidence would be diminished by reason of a mental disorder, or a learning disability or a physical disability or disorder (under section 16) or because of their fear and distress at testifying (section 17).

All child witnesses in sexual offence cases are entitled to have a video recording admitted as their evidence in chief and otherwise give their evidence via a live link unless the court decides that this would be against the interests of justice. For adults the court needs to be satisfied that the provision of special measures would improve the quality of the witness' evidence.

The introduction of special measures is being phased to enable evaluation of how they are working and to provide time for agencies to prepare for full implementation.

Video recorded evidence in chief is available in all cases in the Crown Court to all witnesses eligible under section 16, which includes all child witnesses. It is also available to child witnesses in sexual offence cases heard in magistrates' courts. Additionally, this measure is available to witnesses eligible under section 17 in a limited number of pilot courts.

Live links are available to all section 16 or section 17 witnesses in the Crown Court and to child witnesses in sexual offence cases in magistrates' courts. Live links are also available to adult witnesses as a pilot in West London Magistrates' Court.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment has been made of (a) interviewing and (b) therapeutic techniques used with sex offence victims. [196646]

Paul Goggins: Guidance on interviewing vulnerable or intimidated witnesses, including victims of sexual offences, is contained in "Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance for Vulnerable or Intimidated Witnesses, including Children" issued in January 2002. This guidance became operational in May 2002 when it superseded "Memorandum of Good Practice on Video Recorded Interviews with Child Witnesses for Criminal Proceedings".

Guidance on therapy is provided in "Provision of Therapy for Child Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial: Practice Guidance" and "Provision of Therapy for Vulnerable or Intimidated Adult Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial: Practice Guidance" issued in 2001 and 2002, respectively. This guidance took effect immediately.

These guidance documents were produced as a result of a wider assessment by an interdepartmental working group into the treatment of vulnerable or intimidated witnesses, including the victims of sexual offences, in the
 
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criminal justice system. The working group's findings and recommendations were published in the Speaking Up For Justice report (Home Office, 1998).

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate has been made of the number of unreported sex offences. [196648]

Paul Goggins: The British Crime Survey (BCS) systematically collects information on rape, although due to the sensitivity of such questions in a face-to-face crime survey it is recognised that the subsequent results may provide an unreliable indicator. For this reason, they are not routinely published. However, self-completion modules on sexual victimisation put to respondents aged 16 to 59 have been included in the 1998, 2000, 2001 and currently in the 2004/05 BCS.

The 2001 results are published in Home Office research study 276 'Domestic violence, sexual victimisation and stalking: findings from the British Crime Survey'. This report showed that in only 12 per cent. of worst incidents of female serious sexual assault suffered since the age of 16 did the police come to know about it.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what (a) support and (b) treatment is available for prisoners who disclose information to the police about historical sex abuse against them. [196649]

Paul Goggins: Prisons assist the police in making facilities available when investigating offences. Any information about historical sex abuse disclosed in these circumstances by prisoners to the police will be treated in confidence and not shared with prison staff. However, prisoners may choose to disclose such information to staff.

The support and treatment available for prisoners who have been sexually abused in the past varies between prison establishments, reflecting local circumstances. Prison psychologists, for example, may be able to offer one-to-one help in some cases, although the psychological and therapeutic work done with victims of sexual abuse can be a long slow process. Help may be limited to information or advice or referral to appropriate agencies in their local communities on release. Some prison programmes, such as anger management, may address the impact of abuse indirectly. Prisoners who have a history of sexual abuse are at a greater risk of suicide or self-harm and guidance to staff on managing prisoners who self-harm has been circulated to establishments.


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