UK Family Law Reform

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Fear of killers ‘ruining childhood’

A climate of fear created by high-profile child killers like Ian Huntley is robbing children of their childhood, research has shown.

Children are far more likely to be killed in a road crash than by a child murderer from outside the family.

But public misconception meant parents kept their children too close and society risked taking away their childhood, the study showed.

Professor Colin Pritchard and Tony Sayers estimated how many violent child sex abusers from outside the family are at large in the UK at any one time. They then calculated their murder rate and fatal risk to children aged five to 14 to estimate how many go on to kill.

Prof Pritchard said: “High profile child murders lead parents to fear for their children’s safety but perception of risk is often at variance with reality and our results place the dangers in a better perspective, which is needed to redress the climate of fear surrounding our children.”

He added: “There are two messages from this research, that these assailants are very rare and because of public misperception, we are in danger of robbing our children of their childhood because we keep them too close.”

Prof Pritchard and Mr Sayers, from Bournemouth University, examined all child homicides aged up to 14 that took place in two English counties between 1988 and 1998, equivalent to a 4% sample of the UK population. They then analysed the profiles of people who killed children.

A total 85% of all children were killed by a family member, 61% of whom were murdered by their mothers. The 15% of murderers outside the family, or “extra family”, killed children only aged six and over. The vast majority, 80%, of these “extra family” killers were violent multi-criminal child sex abusers. This means they had criminal records and at least one previous conviction for violence.

The profiles of “extra family” murderers were then projected onto the UK’s male population which revealed there are an estimated 912 violent multi-criminal child sex abusers at large in the UK at any one time. The study then looked at the national patterns of child homicides between 1998 to 2002.

A total 16 children, aged five to 14, were probably killed by someone from outside the family out of an average of 40 murders a year in the UK. Prof Pritchard said: “Every death is a huge tragedy but these results should reassure parents. The total number of children killed by someone from outside the family is far lower than most people suspect and is lower than the average 150 children, aged 0 to 14, killed by motorists on the UK’s roads annually.”

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