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Call for ‘dangerous offender’ law

Sheelagh Cooper

Child safety campaigner Sheelagh Cooper is calling for a “dangerous offender” law to ensure paedophiles and others convicted of sex offences have to be supervised upon release from prison.

Mark Pettingill, chairman of the joint parliamentary select committee investigating how better to protect children from sex offenders, said last night in response that the group was addressing “all this in the committee report, which will be completed in the next few weeks”.

In an opinion piece on page 4 of today’s edition of The Royal Gazette, Ms Cooper, who is the founder of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, said: “In most jurisdictions, including Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, provision exists for mandatory parole supervision of serious sexual or violent offenders. These individuals, once designated by the courts, can be subjected to supervision after release for life.”

Ms Cooper said that might sound “draconian” but in cases like that of former policeman John Malcolm “Chalkie” White, who was recently released from jail after serving 12 years for sexually assaulting three young boys, it was necessary.

White was originally sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2004 but it was reduced to 18 the following year by the Court of Appeal, with the panel of justices concluding that “a worse case might occur, though as far as we are aware it has never done so in these islands, and we sincerely hope that it never will”.

The 46-year-old left prison on October 31 after serving two-thirds of his sentence and having not taken part in any rehabilitation at Westgate.

Edward Lamb, the Commissioner of Corrections, said the nature of White’s case “precluded, to a large degree, Corrections making him attend sex offender classes”.

Ms Cooper said: “In the case of sexual perpetrators like White, only constant supervision, coupled with specialised treatment, would reduce the very real risk of his reoffending. It is well known that offenders like White wait for release at two-thirds of their sentence, rather than applying for parole [after a third] to avoid this type of supervision.

“We propose that dangerous offender legislation be enacted to provide for lifelong supervision in such cases.”

She said sexual offenders who were deemed unsuitable for group counselling should be given individual treatment and should have to serve their full sentence if they refused to take part.

The charity boss said other changes needed to take place in Bermuda to safeguard children from predators, including disclosing to the public information about the identities and locations of released sex offenders.

She suggested a public sex registry was appropriate for Bermuda, providing it was kept at Hamilton Police Station and those convicted of minor sexual offences were not included.

Ms Cooper said Attorney-General Trevor Moniz’s reluctance to notify the public about White’s release amounted to him protecting sex offenders “at the expense of our children”.

Mr Moniz claimed that although the public could, by law, be notified, no written policy existed on how to do so. He told this newspaper he was investigating how soon a protocol could be put in place.

The Opposition contradicted him, insisting a protocol was enacted during their time in government.

Ms Cooper said the Minister’s ability to notify the public, which has been law since 2001, had never been used until last week when Michael Dunkley, the Premier and Acting Minister of National Security, released White’s photograph to this newspaper.

Ms Cooper reiterated a previous call for those accused of sex offences to be named upon being charged, except in cases where it would identify their victims. Not doing so, she said, gave those individuals “preferential treatment” over people accused of non-sexual offences.

And she said the island’s court system needed to allow hearsay evidence in child abuse cases, as per the Khan Decision in Canada, which allowed a child’s out-of-court statement to her mother to be admissible as evidence.

Opinion, page 4