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Child abuse - can the police disclose records about abusers?

This advice applies to England

This page tells you more about when the police can disclose information about someone who has been convicted of child abuse offences.  

Generally, the police should not disclose information about people convicted of offences related to child abuse.  But if the police have a good reason to believe that a child sex offender presents a risk of serious harm to a particular child, they will disclose information in order to protect the child.

They will also share information with the local authority child protection team.This includes information about convictions, arrests or incidents about an individual. This is usually done as part of a child protection conference or if the local authority requests information.

Police records

There are a number of different sorts of police records and the rules about what is recorded, how long the records are kept and who can access the records are complicated.

You usually have the right to see information about what records the police hold about you and you have the right to correct a record if you can prove it’s wrong.   But you don’t have a general right to see the criminal record of someone else.

If you apply for a job working with children or vulnerable adults, police records of your convictions will be consulted. This also applies if people want to be (or who live with) foster carers or adoptive parents.

In some cases, the police will give details of information they have about you even if you weren’t convicted of an offence.  This could include the fact that allegations of child abuse have been made against you even if no further action was taken.

The Sex Offenders’ Register

If someone is convicted or cautioned of serious sex offences, for example, rape or sexual assault they must notify the police of:

  • their name
  • any other names used
  • their date of birth
  • their home address
  • any change of name or home address within three days of the date of the change.

If the offender doesn’t do this, or if they give the police false information, they could be fined or imprisoned.

This Register is not open to the public but it will be consulted if someone applies for a job working with children or vulnerable adults of if they want to be a foster parent or adoptive parent.

The Children’s Barred List

People with criminal convictions for certain offences against children are included in this list which is administered by the Disclosure and Barring Service.

The list will be consulted if someone applies for a job working with children. It’s against the law for employers to employ someone, or allow them to volunteer, to work with children if they know they’re on the Children’s Barred List.

Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme

If you are worried that someone involved with a child may be a risk to the child, you may have the right to information under the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme (also known as Sarah's Law). This allows you to ask the police whether a particular person who has access to the child has been convicted of, cautioned, reprimanded or warned for child sexual offences. If there’s relevant information, the police may disclose it to the person who can best protect the child. This is usually the child's parent or guardian. If you want to apply under this scheme, you should contact your local police. You will need to say why you want a particular person to be checked.

If you make an application under this scheme, it may be that the information you provide as a reason for your concern will be considered under child protection procedures. If so, you’ll be told that your request doesn’t meet the criteria of the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme and your concerns will be passed on to the local authority’s child protection team.

Someone won’t know that an enquiry has been made about them. However, if the police do disclose information, the person might be told that this is going to happen. An assessment of the risks to the offender will take place first but the protection of children is more important than the risks to the offender.

It’s a criminal offence to try to obtain a disclosure under these rules by giving false information.  For example, it is a criminal offence to claim that someone has access to a child when this isn’t the case. Any information passed on to you must be treated in confidence. You must not share it with anyone else without the permission of the police.

If a disclosure under these rules has been made about you and you think this was wrongly made, you should get legal advice from a specialist.

Other useful information

  • Must I tell employers about my criminal record?
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