A former senior British policeman who broke up online paedophile rings involving up to 16,000 offenders says New Zealand must introduce a sex offenders register.
The Government is debating whether to follow Britain, the United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia in introducing a central list of those who have been jailed for sexual offences, particularly against children.
Ian Tyler says New Zealand also needs a specialist child protection agency and a review of name suppression laws.
Tyler was a detective chief inspector with the British police's specialist internet paedophilia division, CEOP (The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) until retiring to rural Canterbury four years ago.
He is being promoted by the Sensible Sentencing Trust as a spokesman for their campaign for a sex offenders register. However, Tyler disagrees with the trust's demand that the list be a publicly accessible online register, because he says it could promote vigilantism. Of other nations with a register, only the US register is "open".
Tyler says New Zealand should follow the British model of controlled disclosure, where the police decide who has a right to know and people must sign non-disclosure agreements.
Deborah Coddington, the former ACT MP who produced her own public sex offenders register, the Paedophile and Sex Offender Index, in 1996 and in 2002 and who introduced a parliamentary bill to legislate for one, is also now opposed to an open register.
"If I pulled the debate out to the extremes, well and good, because at least it has now settled somewhere in the middle . . . changes are made incrementally," she said.
But trust spokeswoman Ruth Money said the register should be open and argued there would not be vigilantism. Money said the trust feared police didn't have the resources to manage a register and the "public can assist in the management of these offenders - they rely on their anonymity to enable their offending; without it the public are automatically safer".
Tyler believes a register could help halt a modern-day equivalent of Rolf Harris, the Australian entertainer jailed this month for historic sex offences.
"The right to privacy should never take precedence over the right to life or a dignified, unmolested existence," Tyler said. "[Police's] basic requirement is to protect life and prevent crime, and they shouldn't have their hands tied in the face of that." Tyler said a register could be introduced much more easily than in the UK, where the number of agencies involved meant disclosure requests took up to 50 days to answer. As a relative newcomer, he says he cannot understand New Zealand's name suppression laws, saying contempt of court, reporting restrictions and media guidelines should cover all eventualities.
"I don't believe the spirit of the law's intention was to allow the rights of someone committing an offence . . . to come before the rights of the victims. I am a bit confused about that'."
Tyler's undercover work in Britain left him with an understanding of a paedophile's mentality and he has a resigned view of the rehabilitative capacity of sex offenders.
He says modern theories suggest paedophilia is a mental disorder, possibly even an orientation and cannot be cured, only managed.
"My take on it is that if you are a paedophile, you are one for life. It's whether you can control that urge. That's why a sex offenders register and the management of sex offenders in the community on their release is a major aspect of keeping the public safe . . . it is possible to have this illness and not act upon it. But if you have got the capacity, you have got the capacity until the day you die."
Tyler says when he tells people in New Zealand what he did for a job, "it's inevitable that within a few minutes, I see this faded look come across their face - they either A, don't want to know about it, or B, don't understand it".
And yes, he says, the work did have an impact on him.
"And if anyone says it doesn't, they are lying. Sometimes, you go home, and you've had enough and sometimes you go home, want to pick up your own kids and give them a hug . . . I am probably one of those fathers who placed [his son] in cotton wool. It's probably not a good idea."
- Sunday Star Times