Whenever Paul Sloane wants to remind himself why he gives up a night a week to hang out with a convicted child sex offender, he thinks back to one phone call. The 55-year-old former engineer from Newcastle was recently rung on his mobile by a paedophile he had volunteered to befriend.
Paul recalls: “One day he rang me out of the blue. He had gone and bought a load of teddy bears to give out to kids. He said, ‘I feel really terrible.’ But he didn’t do anything with them and it makes you feel afterwards, good job we were here, because God knows what would’ve happened if we weren’t.”
Paul volunteers on a programme which aims to prevent child abuse by creating a friendship group around known perpetrators. The Independent on Sunday was given unprecedented access to these social support networks aimed at preventing convicted child sex offenders from reoffending.
Circles UK has been running these groups quietly in Britain for more than 10 years, but is so concerned about the hysteria around the subject that it usually shies away from publicity.
While befriending paedophiles may be a hard sell to the tabloid press, the statistics show that it works. A review of a Circles project in the South-east found that none of its 71 past clients had reoffended over a four-and-a-half-year period. A control group of 71 criminals with a similar offending history committed 10 new offences in the same period.
The latest man Paul has agreed to help is Barry, a 69-year-old who is on the sex offenders’ register for life after sexually assaulting young children, including his own son and stepson, for more than three decades.