More than 900 sex offenders have disappeared off the police radar with many thought to have disguised their identities by changing their names and not telling officers, Sky News has discovered.
The simple deed poll process takes 15 minutes online and over 1,300 sex offenders have already done it since committing their offences and have informed authorities.
Campaigners are warning that while it is an offence for people on the sex offenders register to change their names without telling officials, that’s not incentive enough for them not to do it – as it’s easy to do and common practice.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the 43 police forces in England and Wales found there were 1,349 sex offenders who had notified the authorities they had changed their name by deed poll, since committing their offences. (About half the forces couldn’t provide data on this).
Changing their names makes it more difficult for members of the public to do an online check into a person’s history.
But more worrying, the Safeguarding Alliance also asked police forces, in addition to this figure, how many sex offenders have gone missing. Only 16 police forces provided data, but it amounted to 913 offenders.
It’s thought many of these have changed their names and chosen not to tell the police.
Emily Konstantas from the Safeguarding Alliance said: “When we first started looking into this, we couldn’t quite believe it. That’s why we started requesting FOIs. This is a flaw in the current legal system and it’s a flaw that’s going to be exploited.”
Sky News found numerous cases in the British courts where names had changed, but the individual was the same and their offence repeated.
A sex offender called Terry Price conducted a string of sexual offences over three decades and has changed his name five times in an effort to cover up his recurring pattern of behaviour.
Della Wright, 47, was repeatedly raped by Price from the age of six, back in the early 1980s.
After having her own children, Ms Wright recently found the courage to report the crimes – but she discovered her attacker was called Robert McEwan (also a sex offender).
She waived her right to anonymity to highlight this issue in the hope that the laws will change to make it impossible for sex offenders to change their identities.
Ms Wright told Sky News: “I just thought how many relationships has he had? How many jobs has he had around children? We don’t know but we know he’s a prolific offender. It makes me really angry and it shouldn’t be possible.
“This person has been through the system not once but countless times – and even as recently as 2016 he was allowed to change his name again whilst in prison.”
Emily Konstantas added: “When they change their name, they effectively go under the radar of all the authorities – they can obtain a new passport, they can obtain a new driving licence and essentially they can erase their past.
“The onus is on them to inform police, but they are often manipulative by nature. If a sexual offender is on the sex offender register, there must be a system where it’s not just reliant on that offender to tell the truth.”
The Safeguarding Alliance asked the Disclosure and Baring Service (DBS) how they guard against this. They replied: “The DBS does not undertake any background checks regarding applicants changing their name by deed poll.”
So, what then about the laws put in place to allow people to check on the history of people?
Sarah’s Law followed the murder of Sarah Payne in 2000 and is a disclosure scheme so people can check if someone with access to children has a record of child sex offences.
Clare’s Law was introduced in 2014 by then home secretary Theresa May to allow women to check to see whether partners have an abusive past.
Survivor Della Wright said: “Clare’s law, Sarah’s law – they are redundant now. They are only as good as the name given on that day. If you go and ask has Joe Bloggs got a history? Well no he doesn’t because his name was Dave Jones yesterday.”
The Safeguarding Alliance has now launched a parliamentary petition to “revoke the right of registered sex offenders to change their name by deed poll”.
Ahead of his trial in 2016, Della Wright’s attacker changed his name again to Mr Mac, so he was unable to enter a plea because the charges were against Robert McEwan. The process was disrupted for several weeks. Ms Wright believes he did it in the hope she would lose her nerve.
She said: “He was allowed again to have full control, and in that moment, I was a child again because he was full in control.”
Mr Mac (Terry Price, Robert McEwan) was eventually convicted in November 2017 of raping Ms Wright and was sentenced to 22 years in custody with five years extended licence.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are determined to prevent serious criminals from hiding their pasts and will not tolerate sex offenders trying to evade the justice system.
“Sex offenders who fail to tell police of a name change already face tough prison sentences.
“We are working with the courts and DBS to ensure measures are strengthened and continuously reviewed in order to protect the public.”