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UK minister to meet "Megan's Law" parents in U.S.

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, July 23 (Reuters) British minister Gerry Sutcliffe, sent to find out if the controversial US Megan's Law that lets Americans know where sex offenders live could be adapted for use in Britain, meets Megan's parents.

Megan's murder in 1994 led to the passing of legislation that allows parents in most US states to be told where known sex offenders live.

Home Secretary John Reid has sent Sutcliffe to the United States yesterday on a fact-finding mission to see whether such legislation could work in Britain.

Sutcliffe has had talks with US legislators and law enforcement officials, and his meeting with Richard and Maureen Kanka is likely to be the most emotionally charged of his trip.

Sutcliffe told BBC radio he thought British parents could be given access to some information on the whereabouts of sex offenders. ''I think we will have a form of information to the public, but I'm not going to prejudge that without looking at what is available to us around the world,'' he said.

''We already give lots of information to the responsible authorities and what I want to do is strike a balance for a scheme in the UK that gives the public the protection and confidence that seems to be lacking.'' Although Megan's Law was adopted in various guises in most US states, there has been criticism that it can lead to vigilantism and force known sex offenders to ''disappear'' by assuming new identities.

Some have argued that the law focuses too much on ''stranger danger'' when in fact many sex assaults on children are carried out by people known to the victim's family.

Campaigners in Britain have been pushing for a Sarah's Law -- a version of Megan's Law -- ever since eight-year-old Sarah Payne was murdered in 2000 after being abducted from a cornfield in West Sussex as she played with her brothers and sister.

Sutcliffe's trip to the United States marked a shift in political opinion towards adopting a version of Megan's Law -- rejected by former Home Secretary Jack Straw -- but has also come in for criticism.

One of Britain's most senior police officers, the Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys, has accused the government of giving in to media pressure and making up policy on paedophiles ''on the hoof''.

REUTERS SRS VA BST0903

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