THE number of sex offenders living in East Lancashire has risen to an all-time high.

New figures show that 404 registered offenders, over a third of Lancashire's total of 1,015, are now living in the east of the county – a rise of 10 per cent.

And more than 150 of the total in Lancashire are categorised as “high risk offenders” - including serial rapists and paedophile.

Worried critics point out that there are more sex offenders in Lancashire than in the whole of Merseyside.

Police said the registered sex offenders are well monitored by the authorities and one of the reasons for the numbers of the criminals in this area are a “high number of approved premises” here for offenders to live in.

Greg Pope, Hyndburn MP, said any increase in the number of sex offenders in the area was worrying for parents, but congratulated police on convicting more predators.

He added: “There are a number of factors adding to these figures, including early release, but also better policing to catch these people.

“These things are worrying to parents like myself, but we have to keep in mind the fact that these people are being monitored, and increasing numbers does not necessarily mean increased risk.”

Detective Inspector Jim Elston said police had expected to see a rise on the register this year.

He said: "The slight rise was predicted due to the changes in the sex offences legislation a few years ago. People convicted under those changes are now being released from their sentences and are subject to the registration procedure.

"The subject of sex offenders is always an emotive one. Few sex offenders are predatory paedophiles like Ian Huntley or Ian Brady who target unknown youngsters; sadly many of the cases we see are cases where a relative or family friend has been involved.”

Lancashire Constabulary's Eastern division, which covers Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley, had 252 registered sex offenders as of March 31 this year. This has risen from 231 in the previous year.

Peninne division, covering Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale, saw an increase from 141 registered sex offenders to 152.

Those on the register can range from people committing relatively minor offences, such as downloading child sex images from the internet, to dangerous and high risk offenders.

'Dangerous' offenders are monitored through multi-agency public protection arrangements, involving the police, probation service, prison service and other groups.

Across Lancashire, there were 153 high risk offenders convicted of violent or sexual crimes and subject to monitoring. Extra attention was focused on 22 identified as having the highest potential risk of harm.

However, none of these criminals have gone on to breach their sexual offences prevention orders or have committed a serious sexual or violent offence. Nine low risk, and two high risk, offenders breeched their prison licence in the last year.

Mr Elston said: "I think we are doing well at preventing further offending, although you cannot eliminate all risk.

"We have used the legislation to our benefit and regularly apply for SOPOs, which stop people from going to certain places or approaching certain people.”

Ian Phillips, assistant chief officer for the Lancashire Probation Service said: “Realistically, we can never entirely eliminate risk for any offender but the results show that our tough controls and joint working are as effective as possible.”