In the neighbourhood - how many sex offenders live near you?

The Observer asks how much information about serious sex offenders is available to homeowners and prospective buyers, and how much information should they have access to?

Heather Brooke, a freedom of information campaigner, who is currently campaigning on behalf of the public for greater access to criminal records said: "People ought to be able know what sort of offenders they're living with, and whether the crime was against minors - after all, these were [convictions] originally made in open court."

Brooke points out that in the US registers of criminal records are public, and schools are notified proactively if there is a sex offender in their area: "We have decided in this country to trust the authorities to look after us. I don't - but that's the decision that has been made."

Brooke is concerned at the levels of secrecy in the UK when it comes to residents and would-be house buyers trying to discover information about the kind of people who live in an area, or the Home Office's proposed network of 'super-hostels' for up to 100 ex-prisoners released on licence. If people are concerned about the possibility of hostels being situated near them the planning system only provides limited information: "The planning system is supposed to be a pretty open system, but there is a real reluctance to give the public information about sex offenders and it is unlikely that they could find out much in that regard beyond it being a hostel for offenders.'

If sex offenders live in a hostel in your street, how do you find out? (The Observer, 7 May 2006)