It’s fair to say that the UK has some of the toughest restrictions on people convicted of sexual offences. Conditions included in SOPOs can be very restrictive and can have a huge impact on an individual’s ability to move on. However as Colin explains, his local police force have taken a more sensible approach and by assisting low risk individuals to discharge their orders they are able to concentrate their resources on those deemed to be a high risk.
In 2010 I was convicted of a number of sexual offences and received a 3 year community order and an indefinite SOPO. With everything that was going on in court, I didn’t give too much thought to the term ‘indefinite’ and it was only later that I realised the significance of this.
I suspect that many people will think that I was lucky not to go to prison and without a doubt I’m glad that I was able to serve my sentence in the community. Like anybody who is placed on the SOR, I had to notify the police of my personal circumstances every year. If I went abroad I had to notify the police and when I went on holiday with my daughter and her family I had to tell the police that I was going to be in the same place as my grandchildren. In addition to this, the police paid visits to our house without warning.
My SOPO meant that I couldn’t be alone with any children under any circumstances except for ‘incidental contact’.
Towards the end of 2013 I started to look forward to being ‘off the register’. However, I was totally floored when during one of their visits, the police told me that my indefinite SOPO meant that generally my situation would not change.
The detective sergeant in overall charge of my case contacted me some months later to tell me that my local police force were reviewing the SOPOs of some low risk individuals and were looking at ways that they may be able to assist in getting ‘indefinite’ SOPOs discharged. He told me he’d be back in touch when he had any further information.
I never expected to hear from him again but, true to his word, several months later he asked to see me so that he could interview me about my SOPO. I can’t say that I’ve ever looked forward to meeting a policeman but this was more like a friendly chat, and at the end he asked me to sign a witness statement that he’d written as we talked. One of the key points he made was that my computer had been regularly examined by the police and found to be free of any inappropriate material.
I was extremely anxious about having to go back to court but the detective sergeant reassured me that, whilst the presiding judge could ask that I attend, this had only happened once since the police had been involved in the ‘system’.
Within a couple of weeks I received through the post an ‘Application to Discharge a SOPO’ document which outlined my case, my criminal record, details of the SOPO, a statement from the detective and my own statement. An accompanying letter stated that the police had requested that the application be considered administratively. I wasn’t required to go to court.
Three weeks later I received a letter telling me that my SOPO had been discharged.
The discharge of my SOPO has been the final piece of my previous life. Last week, Sophie, one of my grandchildren was too ill to go to nursery and while my wife stayed at home to take care of her, now SOPO free, I was able to collect her twin brother Toby from nursery. As I relaxed in front of the television that night my phone buzzed with a text message from my daughter. It said:
Thank you for today. Toby loved you picking him up. When I dropped him off at nursery this morning he announced to everyone with a huge smile “My grandad is picking me up in his orange car today” xxx”
I’m delighted that such a simple thing has bought such joy to both of us.
By Colin (name changed to protect identity)
A comment from Unlock
It is common problem for individuals with convictions for sexual offences to be given SOPOs which exceed their sentence/disposal or time on the register. The proactive nature of the police in this case is to be welcomed but is still quite rare to see police forces actively helping individuals discharge a SOPO, but there is nothing stopping you from doing this yourself and, in the case of indefinite SOPOs, it is certainly worth doing.