April 2007

We needed to be told

FAMILIES are furious that a pervert jailed for molesting a teenage boy was living just yards from their homes and a youth centre.

Michael Minchell was locked up for four years at Newcastle Crown Court last month after admitting three charges of sexually assaulting the 17-year-old.

He also admitted a charge of abduction after taking a young boy into his garden.

The married 42-year-old was banned from working with children and ordered to register as a sex offender for life.

But residents on the Biddick Hall estate in South Shields are angry that Minchell had been living in Sheridan Road, close to the Percy Hudson Youth Centre, when he committed the offences, after it came to light during sentencing that he had a previous conviction for indecently assaulting a 16-year-old boy in 1998. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and ordered to sign as a sex offender for five years.

But by the time he moved into the council property in November 2003, his conviction was spent, and he no longer had to sign the sex offenders’ register.

Even checks by housing staff would not have uncovered his conviction.

A spokesman for South Tyneside Homes said: “Mr Minchell was housed in Sheridan Road in November 2003. We were not aware of his previous conviction.

“Mr Minchell has not lived there since August last year, and we were we not aware of any issues or problems from his previous tenancy.”

But chairwoman of Biddick Hall Residents’ Association Karen Nicholson, speaking on behalf of outraged families, said: “We should have been told we had a sex offender living near us, even if his conviction was spent.

“As parents and grandparents, we have a right to protect our children and that right was taken away from us. I can’t believe he was living opposite a youth club.”

Mrs Nicholson said that a British version of Megan’s Law should be put in place to allow parents access to information on whether a paedophile lives in their area.

Last week, the Home Office disowned the plans after a barrage of criticism from child protection agencies, who believe the information would drive paedophiles underground and trigger vigilante attacks.

But Mrs Nicholson said: “Our children have a right to be protected, these paedophiles do not.”

Detective Inspector Arthur Cowell, of the Public Protection Unit at South Tyneside Area Command, said: “In November 1998, Minchell was convicted of a sexual offence, for which he was sentenced to two years’ probation and was placed on the sex offenders’ register for five years.

“During that time, he was actively managed by Northumbria Police and did not commit any further offences.

“I wish to reassure the public once concerns were raised about Minchell’s activities, the police moved quickly to arrest him and conducted a thorough investigation, not only into the initial concern but into his wider activities, subject of the most recent charges.”