Sex offenders to be tracked after jail – use of lie detectors

May 28, 2004

The home secretary, David Blunkett, today confirmed his intention to introduce prison without bars for sex offenders by extending satellite tracking and subjecting them to lie detector tests once they leave prison. Mr Blunkett’s outlined his plans for tracking sex offenders while campaigning alongside Tony Blair in his Sheffield constituency.Political onlookers are widely expecting to see a drip feed of general election manifesto intentions to boost the Labour vote in the run-up to the local and European elections.The party is facing a serious challenge from the Liberal Democrats on June 10 for control of Sheffield council, in the home secretary’s back yard.Mr Blunkett’s plan for tracking sex offenders out on licence is expected to form a major part of the government’s five-year plan on crime and disorder. A new register of violent and sexual offenders, to be managed jointly by the police and probation services, will provide instant access to accurate and detailed information on all known dangerous offenders. “It is one tool in the kit of measures that might need to be made available,” Mr Blunkett said.”We have changed the sex offenders law and tightened things up in terms of longer sentences. Where there is supervision for those coming out of prison, then it makes sense for sex offenders and violent repeat offenders to be satellite-tracked so that we know where they are and what they are doing.”He also reiterated the wider benefits of tagging as tough community sentencing alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders at the other end of the spectrum.The reliability of lie detector (polygraph) tests has proved controversial in Britain but the results of a small voluntary pilot scheme in the north-east has shown that its use is backed by probation staff involved in supervising sex offenders.The controversial tests claim to detect when people are lying by measuring variations in blood pressure, breathing, heart rate and perspiration. Mr Blunkett admitted that the introduction of lie detector tests to check offenders’ past behaviour or gauge their intentions to reoffend, would have to overcome the imagination of people versed in cinematic spy fiction, which depict high-wire schemes for overcoming the power of the lie detector.Mr Blunkett ruled out using the polygraph evidence in the court, however. “It is not a tool for finding out whether people have committed an offence,” he said. “It is a deterrent.” Human Rights organisation Liberty gave the proposals a cautious thumbs up: “We have no real principled objection, where it both protects people at risk and also keep people out of prison,” a spokesman said.”We do, however, share the scepticism of many detractors – and indeed many American courts – as to their reliability.”Surveillance tactics were also discussed earlier today in relation to the arrest of radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza, following an extradition warrant from the US, which was backed by satellite tracking evidence of a phone call linking Mr Hamza to Yemen.Mr Blunkett said under current UK law, in a “theoretical” situation where such evidence was known about, no action could be taken.But he said moves were underway to see whether material gathered from intercepting communications could begin to be used in open court.”We have a review of that going on at this very moment and I hope to be able to report by the autumn,” he said. “I have indicated I am being moved on this issue – my views have changed and I think there is room for limited use of such evidence, whether picked up in the US or by GCHQ is, of course, another matter.” The Tory and Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesmen, David Davis and Mark Oaten, welcomed Mr Blunkett’s move towards allowing intercept evidence in court. Mr Oaten told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I hope he does that quickly because, if he does, then we can look at not just the impact that allowing that would have had in this case, but the other cases of individuals currently being held.”

The Guardian

 

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