A new multi-agency public protection team has been set up in the North to manage the most dangerous sexual and violent offenders after they have been released from prison, it was announced today.
The team was set up as part of new arrangements to manage the most serious offenders once they are released back into the community.
It draws its members from the police service of Northern Ireland and the probation and social services and will be responsible for ensuring the safety of the community from the offenders.
The new arrangements replace the existing MASRAM system for managing sex offenders in the community and for the first time adds in violent offenders.
Crucially the arrangements, part of the Criminal Justice Order which came into force recently, puts a statutory obligation on the law enforcement and government agencies to share information with each other.
Criminal Justice Minister Paul Goggins, said following recent changes in the law the most dangerous offenders will be spending much longer behind bars but there was still a need for robust protection measures for those released from prison or already in the community.
He said: “These new public protection measures build on existing arrangements, and will further enhance the capacity of the relevant agencies to manage the risk posed by sexual and violent offenders.
“This dedicated and specialist resource is another major initiative to strengthen the way we seek to reduce the risk from serious offenders and other potentially dangerous people in the community.”
The arrangements are introduced following a considerable public outcry about cases such as the murder of Attracta Harron, who was murdered in County Tyrone by freed sex offender Trevor Hamilton.
He was one of those who slipped through the monitoring process.
Mr Goggins conceded: “There have been a number of high profile cases where a great deal of public concern has been expressed, obviously that has fed through into the various consultations we have had.
“I think the legislation really does reflect that increased public concern to make sure people are kept out of the community where it is necessary and also managed effectively when in the community.
“Of course these tragic cases people know about do concentrate the mind.”
The specialist team, 13-strong, will operate on a full-time basis out of the PSNI Station at Donegall Pass in Belfast and be under the overall direction of assistant chief constable Duncan McCausland.
There are currently 12 of the most serious category three sex offenders living in the community under management and Mr McCausland anticipated the numbers would rise to about 60 when violent offenders and new releases are added to the list.
He said potentially they were looking to link their databases to improve the information sharing.