Scores of sex offenders in Suffolk are failing to tell police about changes to personal details including their names – prompting fears children and vulnerable adults are being put at “immediate risk of harm”.

Police figures obtained by this newspaper reveal 39 of 903 sex offenders living in the community as of August this year had told detectives about a name change.

But a further 242, since January 2018, have been punished for failing to notify officers of changes to identification – such as names and aliases, addresses, bank or credit card details (for online accounts), and national insurance numbers.

%image(14547990, type="article-full", alt="DCI Dring said those failing to tell police of changes can be arrested or recalled to prison (stock image)")

Now safeguarding chiefs are warning the “alarming” figures for Suffolk may be the tip of the iceberg – with many more offenders exploiting a “loophole” allowing them to use new names to pass DBS checks – clearing them to work with children or vulnerable adults.

“While these figures are absolutely alarming, what is more alarming is the fact that we are unable to quantify the magnitude of this problem,” said Emily Konstantas of child protection experts the Safeguarding Alliance.

“What’s more concerning is the figures that we do not know. These are only the ones that have been caught."

She added: “Once a sex offender changes their name they can get a new passport. Once they get a new passport they can get a new driving licence, they can provide proof of address, and essentially they can get a clean DBS.

%image(15118844, type="article-full", alt="Child protection experts the Safeguarding Alliance has been working since 2019 to close a "loophole" where sex offenders are able to change names and access children")

“That means they can have access to work with children and vulnerable adults.”

A Home Office review is underway into the scale and nature of criminals – including sex offenders – changing their names across the UK and the DBS is looking at mandating birth certificates as part of its checks.

Suffolk police’s Detective Chief Inspector Dave Dring said day-to-day management of sex offenders in the community is one of the force’s “highest priorities” and is overseen by a dedicated team.

“Where a RSO has committed additional offences, or (breached) strict requirements imposed on their conduct, they are subject to robust action which includes arrest and, where appropriate, a return or recall to prison,” he said.

%image(15118845, type="article-full", alt="Detective Chief Inspector Dave Dring of Suffolk Constabulary")

“If the police were aware of a registered sex offender gaining employment in breach of their restrictions to do so, then immediate action would be taken to notify the employer and safeguard any children or young people involved.”

Risk of name changes ‘known since Soham murders’

When Ian Huntley secured his role as a caretaker at a school in Soham, Cambridgeshire – a stone’s throw from the Suffolk border – he applied under the name Ian Nixon.

He had been suspected of sex crimes against women and young girls in the 1990s.

Yet when police checks were carried out for his caretaker role officers searched under Ian ‘Nixon’ – and failed to do so under ‘Huntley’, which would have uncovered his grim record.

%image(15118846, type="article-full", alt="Huntley applied for the caretaker role in Soham using the name Ian Nixon")

The Bichard inquiry, launched a year after the 2002 murders, found there should be a system where anyone working with children should be vetted before working with them.

Ms Konstantas criticised a lack of Government action since: “Where have we got to, since what happened in that terrible event however many years ago? In my mind nothing’s changed, and that’s really sad.

“The issue is still very much a live safeguarding risk, it is actively putting children and adults at immediate risk of harm.

%image(15118847, type="article-full", alt="Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were murdered by Ian Huntley in 2002")

“I would urge every single organisation employing somebody to work with children or vulnerable adults to conduct appropriate checks. If a school can do anything, it’s reviewing safe recruitment.”

Home Office bosses said the DBS plays a “vital” role in ensuring employers have the right information to prevent unsuitable people from working with them.

But they stressed employers must ensure applicants declare all previous name changes, providing documentary proof to support this, and if they fail companies must discuss this with applicants.

“The UK has some of the toughest powers in the world to deal with sex offenders living in the community,” a spokesman said.

“Registered sex offenders are legally required to inform the police if they change their name.

“Failure to do so is a criminal offence, punishable by a maximum of five years’ imprisonment and we expect the police to investigate any instance where this occurs.

“The system is kept under consideration to ensure it is as robust as necessary to keep the public safe.”

%image(14474696, type="article-full", alt="Suffolk's police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore said it is "critically important" that all sex offenders on the register are monitored appropriately")

Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner, Tim Passmore, said he is satisfied the force makes “best use” of all legal powers available.

“It is critically important that all sex offenders on the register are monitored appropriately,” he said.

“Public safety and safeguarding is crucial and I have sanctioned further investment through the precept to maintain our public protection work."