The Government today continued to resist calls to give the public access to a paedophiles' register after the Sarah Payne case.

Home Office minister Keith Bradley insisted the move would drive offenders underground.

The renewed calls for the register came after Roy Whiting, 42, was yesterday jailed for life for kidnapping and murdering Sarah.

Sarah's parents, Sara and Michael Payne, made an impassioned plea for the introduction of "Sarah's Law" - giving parents the right to know about released paedophiles - after the court hearing.

Sarah was not Whiting's first victim - he had previously sexually assaulted a nine-year-old girl and authorities had warned he was a "dangerous paedophile" who could strike again.

But Mr Bradley said today: "What's most important is the protection of our children. Nothing is a higher priority.

"I am determined to legislate in this area to bring in tough sentences and long sentences to ensure that violent and dangerous offenders are not released from prison.

"And where they are, there is continued supervision of them in the community to ensure the public and children are protected from them."

Asked about the calls for Sarah's Law, Mr Bradley said: "What I am concerned about is that when people are in the community they are properly supervised and we know where they are.

"With the proposals (Sarah's Law) there is a chance that people will go underground."

He added that the difficult job the authorities already faced would be "undermined" because they would not know where paedophiles were.

Mr Bradley said: "Through our new multi-agency public protection panels that we have set up, we can properly monitor sex offenders."

Terry Grange, chief constable of Dyfed Powys Police, who deals with sex offender issues for the Association of Chief Police Officers, agreed.

He said: "If we start naming paedophiles a good proportion of them will disappear.

"Currently we have the register of sex offenders, and 97 per cent of those who should register have. We know where they are.

"Because we know where they are, we are able to conduct assessments as to the risk they pose, monitor their movements, treat them where it is possible and manage them to the best of our ability.

"But having said that, I have to be completely honest and say there is no absolute safety for the public."

Mr Grange acknowledged that Whiting was on the sex offenders' register after his previous conviction for attacking a young child.

He said Whiting had been monitored for 18 months, but added: "The problem for police forces, and probation services and housing authorities is that there are a large number of paedophiles.

"The register of sex offenders contains an awful lot of people.

"You have to make an assessment as to which of them pose the highest risk and place all your efforts towards them.

"But having said that, it is not possible to monitor people 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

Whiting previously snatched a schoolgirl off the street in his home town of Crawley, West Sussex, in 1995 and subjected her to a sickening sex assault.

He served two and a half years of a four-year jail sentence in June 1995 and was released in November 1997 - despite warnings from probation officers, who were convinced there was a danger he would attack another child.

Meanwhile, Laura Ahearn, director of US organisation Parents for Megan's Law, - which was the legal inspiration for Sarah's Law - backed the Paynes.

Ms Ahearn said she knew of stories where the law had exposed paedophiles who had been trying to establish relationships with children.

She added: "I think it is somewhat naive to believe that law enforcement, social services and probation can really control an individual who himself cannot control his actions."

She said that law was not a "ticket" for vigilante action, insisting community support services were in place to ensure information was handled responsibly.

December 13, 2001