'Sarah's Law' postcode lottery may leave children at risk from sexual abuse

Only 1 in 6 applications successful despite thousands of requests made

HousesChildren may be at risk of harm from sexual predators as very few police forces are making full use of 'Sarah's Law'.

The Child Sex Offenders Disclosure (CSOD) scheme came into force following public outrage over the savage murder of 8-year-old Sarah Payne.It allows parents and others to ask police for details about individuals if they suspect they might harm children.

But since it began in April 2011, our Freedom of Information requests found that just 1 in 6 applications under the scheme known as 'Sarah's Law' were successful in England and Wales.

The new figures also revealed that the number of disclosures made varied greatly from location to location, indicating a postcode lottery when it comes to responding to public concerns.

How Sarah's Law is being used across England and Wales

Between 2011-2014:

  • 5,357 applications were made to 33 forces
  • only 877 applications resulted in information being given

908 applications were received by 5 other forces:

  • Warwickshire Police gave information about people who pose a risk to children in just 1% of applications (13 out of 1,084 applications).
  • Suffolk Police disclosed information they held for around a third of applications (31 out of 93 made).
  • Sussex Police, the force which who investigated Sarah Payne's murder, gave out information for only 7% of applications (14 out of 193 applications).

As well as parents, carers and guardians, any concerned member of the public can formally ask the police to tell them if someone has a record for child sexual offences.

"Police need to be proactive in empowering communities to protect vulnerable children"
Peter Wanless / NSPCC Chief Executive

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said:
"We are both disturbed and surprised by this wide discrepancy of figures across the country, revealing that there is a postcode lottery when it comes to how forces deal with Sarah's law.

"Families need to know if there are individuals in their area who pose a risk to children. How can you expect parents to make the right choices in order to protect their children if they don't know who is a threat?

"The police need to be proactive in empowering communities to protect vulnerable children. The wide variation in disclosure numbers doesn't breed confidence that the scheme is being understood or applied consistently and that is a concern.

"While there may be very good reasons for not disclosing information held to applicants, some forces seem to be too cautious which could put children at serious risk of harm. We need to see regular independent evaluation of this vital law to make sure it's working as it should."

The figures come weeks after our State of the Nation report showed a dramatic increase in child sexual abuse being reported to police, with 3 offences committed against children every hour.