Skip to main content

0800 917 1000 Open weekdays 9am to 5pm

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children Outside the United Kingdom Phase 2 Investigation Report

B.3: The regime in practice

The number of orders made

10. Obtaining a consistent data set for the number of offenders whose travel has been restricted by a civil order is not straightforward.

10.1. Neither the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice nor the Crown Prosecution Service collect data about the number of orders containing foreign travel restrictions that are imposed.[1]

10.2. The Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements[2] (MAPPA) annual reports include data for SHPOs but not SROs.[3]

10.3. Data on SROs are held by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), based on information provided by individual forces each quarter.[4] Although data on civil orders is stored on the Violent and Sex Offender Register (ViSOR), it has been difficult to extract figures for those orders which contain foreign travel restrictions.[5]

11. With those caveats, the data provided to the Inquiry show that few SHPOs or SROs restricting foreign travel (whether to one or more countries) have been made in recent years.

Table 1:  Number of SHPOs made per year in 2015 to 2018[6]

2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
Total SHPOs made 3,873 5,931 5,551
SHPOs with foreign travel restrictions 8 4 11

12. As at March 2019, from data provided by 40 police forces, only six SROs with foreign travel restrictions were in existence.[7]

13. To put these figures into context:

  • Foreign travel restrictions were attached to less than 0.3 percent of SHPOs each year.
  • Taking the most generous reading of the foreign travel order statistics,[8] only around 0.2 percent of the 58,637 registered sex offenders in England and Wales on 31 March 2018 had their foreign travel restricted.[9]
  • In 2017, 78 UK nationals requested consular assistance abroad after being arrested for child sex offences.[10]

14. Following our hearings, the Home Office provided the Inquiry with its 2019 review of the civil orders regime, which we consider below.[11]

The making of civil orders

15. The success rate of applications for foreign travel restrictions remains unclear.

15.1. Chief Constable Michelle Skeer of the NPCC told us that, across 40 forces, 31 SROs had been sought but not granted.[12] It is not clear how many of these, if any, included applications for foreign travel restrictions.

15.2. Data for the success rate of SHPO applications including foreign travel restrictions were not available.[13] Chief Constable Skeer’s impression is that SHPOs are generally granted by courts when sought, and that police forces have a better success rate in SRO applications than they had in applications under the previous regime.[14]

16. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as ECPAT (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking) and Child Redress International (CRI) have expressed concern that orders restricting foreign travel are not made as often as they could or should be. This concern is understandable. It is therefore necessary to consider why the number of orders made is as low as it is.

17. Orders restricting foreign travel must correspond to risk. The Court of Appeal’s decision in R v Smith and Others[15] reinforces that civil order restrictions must be tailored to the exact and identifiable risks posed by a perpetrator.[16] It appears that concerns about this need for proportionality may lead to:

  • some caution by law enforcement agencies in applying for foreign travel restrictions, especially worldwide orders;[17]
  • police force legal advisers rejecting proposed applications for foreign travel restrictions;[18]
  • a potentially overstated need for evidence either that the underlying sexual behaviour had been committed abroad or of a specific intent to travel;[19]
  • orders being sought or made which limit an offender from travelling to a particular country only;[20] and
  • some reluctance by courts to impose foreign travel restrictions.[21]

18. However, we heard of a number of cases which suggest that such concerns may be misplaced or overstated.

18.1. An SHPO with foreign travel restrictions was obtained by West Midlands Police on a sex offender’s return to the UK after he had travelled to Cambodia without notifying police that he would also travel to Thailand.[22]

18.2. A travel restriction order was obtained by South Yorkshire Police after an offender, originally convicted of raping a child, failed to notify authorities of travel to Ireland after being released from prison.[23]

18.3. An SHPO preventing travel to all countries was imposed on an offender in Lancashire who wanted to move to a country where he believed the age of consent was 14.[24]

18.4. The Court of Appeal recently upheld a worldwide travel ban imposed on a person convicted of offences committed in England who had absconded to Southeast Asia during proceedings and failed to attend court for sentencing.[25]

18.5. A travel restriction order was made based on a perpetrator’s oral confession while inebriated of his intentions to travel abroad.[26]

These cases show that courts can and do impose travel restrictions without direct evidence of sexual offending abroad, albeit that some evidence of past or intended future travel does seem to be required.

19. However, the impression held by some is that travel restrictions are unlikely to be made in cases involving ‘non-contact’ offending. Several police forces reported to the 2019 Home Office review that judges “rarely associate non-contact offences (i.e. viewing indecent images) with risk of a contact offence”.[27] The NCA agreed that a significant proportion of the evidence gathered on individuals relates to criminal activity online, which is unlikely to be sufficient to support a foreign travel restriction in the absence of a clear intent to commit a contact offence overseas.[28]

20. Knowledge and training gaps may provide some explanation for the low number of orders made. Although the NCA, NPCC, individual forces and Crown Prosecution Service told us about their training events and materials, Christine Beddoe (former Director of ECPAT UK, who co-authored the ACPO review of civil orders) suggested that police forces are inconsistent in their assessment of risk and have differing levels of experience with civil orders. The Home Office reviews in 2017 and 2019 also referred to some training issues.[29]The Inquiry understands that following the public hearings a training event was held at the Home Office on 3 October 2019 which was attended by senior delegates from police forces to share best practice and knowledge in respect of offenders who travel overseas and sexually abuse children.

21. The 2019 Home Office review also identified other issues.[30]

21.1. Some forces find seeking foreign travel restrictions is extremely resource-intensive.

21.2. Serving court summonses on offenders may increase the likelihood that they travel abroad prior to the hearing at which the travel ban is to be considered.

21.3. In one case, it took four months to obtain an interim SRO. Such a delay could, of course, impact on the efficacy of the regime by providing an offender with an opportunity to leave the jurisdiction.

22. Finally, SROs are available where an individual has not been convicted, but it is still necessary to prove the required sexual behaviour to the high criminal standard of proof.[31] In many (but not all) cases where such evidence is available, a prosecution would have been initiated and the case would therefore more likely lead to an SHPO if there is a conviction (and if any order was deemed necessary and proportionate). Christine Beddoe’s evidence was also that police forces did not appear to be applying for SROs based on offending overseas which had not resulted in a prosecution or in other ‘non-prosecution’ scenarios detailed in the 2013 ACPO review.[32] These are further reasons that may explain the low number of SROs.

The effectiveness of the regime

23. The Home Office considers that the current civil orders regime is an improvement on the previous regime and is effective.[33] This view is shared by several of the police forces from which the Inquiry obtained evidence.[34] Chief Constable Skeer indicated that MAPPA processes for the management of registered sex offenders (including those subject to SHPOs) are some of the best internationally.[35]

24. However, ECPAT and other NGOs consider that the low numbers of civil orders restricting foreign travel mean that the system is, overall, ineffective.[36]ECPAT’s position is also that to restrict an offender from travelling to a specified country or region is “redundant” because it is so easy to travel from one country to another.[37] In the 2016 Home Office review, one police force commented that anything other than a worldwide travel restriction is ineffective.[38] In the 2019 Home Office review, several forces said the same.[39] An order preventing a sex offender from travelling to only one or two countries plainly has some value, as it restricts the offender from travelling to some degree. However, given the ease of contemporary travel, such an order is inherently limited in its impact, as it may not prevent an offender from abusing children in other countries.

25. Even if an order is made, if an offender succeeds in leaving the UK in breach of the order, the authorities may not be able to prevent further offending. Gwent Police and Father Shay Cullen (founding member and president of the People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation, based in the Philippines) suggested to us that the fact restrictions cannot be acted on outside the UK is a key reason why the civil orders regime is ineffective in protecting children.[40]


Back to top