HOME SECRETARY Jack Straw today pledged to step in after it was revealed by the Lancashire Evening Telegraph that no accommodation has been found for a dangerous child sex offender who is due to be released from prison in less than four weeks.

And stipendiary magistrate Jonathon Finestein said that the problem posed by the case of Bernard Snape, is a national one for which there is no easy solution.

Snape, 64, was convicted of four offences of indecent assault on children in August 1997.

He was released on licence in August 1998 but was rearrested within a month for failing to conform to a condition of his licence and has been in custody since for being in breach of his prison licence.

While in custody he has admitted that when he is released he will pose a threat to children.

But when he is released he will be free to go wherever he wants with the only restriction being that he tells the police where he is living.

"That is a grave cause for public concern," said Mr Finestein, who heard on Friday that, despite strenuous efforts, the Probation Service have still not found suitable accommodation for Snape.

"It is quite clear the Probation Service is doing everything within their powers to find somewhere for this man to go when he is released," said Mr Finestein. "Their search has taken in various parts of the country but it is extremely difficult with defendants like this. Even if accommodation is found there is nothing that can be done to keep him there.

"Quite obviously resources are stretched and I believe this problem goes far beyond anything this court can do. The Probation Service are doing all they can but this problem needs funding on a national scale," said Mr Finestein.

At a previous hearing Scott Ainge, representing Snape, said his client was aware of the threat he posed and also the threat to himself. He said Snape was anxious to take advantage of any assistance that was available.

"Even at his age he wants some kind of rehabilitation and has always been willing to go on the sex offenders treatment programme. The waiting list for that programme during his custodial sentence was so long that he was released before he got chance to attend."

During his time in Preston prison, Snape has been segregated from other prisoners under Rule 43 which classifies him as "vulnerable." Remanding Snape in custody for a further two weeks, Mr Finestein said: "I want the public to know that everything is being done to resolve this situation to the best of everyone's ability."

Blackburn MP Jack Straw said he plans to discuss the matter with Laurence Loft, clerk to the justices for East Lancashire. He said: "A Sex Offender's Order which is part of the Crime and Disorder Act could be appropriate, and at least one has already being made since it came into force on December 1. I intend to make further inquiries into the background of this case."

A Home Office spokesperson added: "The new Crime and Disorder Act allows police and local authorities to arrange for a Sex Offender's Order through the court if they feel a person poses a risk to the public.

"They now have much more power to keep track of known offenders who will be arrested for a criminal offence if they break any of the conditions of the order."

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