Hundreds of sex offenders across Scotland changed their names while dozens disappeared, new statistics have revealed.
Over a three-year period, 517 registered sex offenders notified Police Scotland of lawful name changes while 35 recorded by the force as having gone missing or wanted for arrest.
Conservative MSP Russell Findlay said the system in Scotland “seems to be ripe for exploitation” as he said the number of criminals changing their names to avoid detection was “concerning”.
Abuse survivors have called for a new law to ban offenders from changing their names to escape their pasts and the authorities.
Scotland has around 4,500 registered sex offenders – there are more than 66,000 across the UK.
Of the nearly 1,500 that the statistics show notified police of lawful name changes in the UK, 34% were in Scotland. The data was revealed in Freedom of Information requests by the BBC Shared Data Unit.
Those on the Sex Offenders Register are required by law to provide certain personal details to the police, including their name and any aliases they have been known by, their current address and passport details.
Every year, they have to visit a police station and inform authorities of any change to their personal details – this must be done within three days or offenders can face up to five years in prison.
Scottish Tory shadow community safety minister Findlay, who has also called for legal changes in the Scottish Parliament to prevent registered sex offenders changing their names, said: “It’s vital for public safety that the police have the resources to keep track of sex offenders.
“The number of criminals changing their name – or even their gender – to avoid detection is concerning.
“We know sex offenders will go to great lengths to commit heinous crimes. Public organisations must be vigilant and work collaboratively with the police to improve the reporting process.
“The system in Scotland seems to be ripe for exploitation by dangerous criminals.
“I have campaigned to close the loopholes in Scotland’s justice system for some time but it is still far too easy for offenders to avoid detection by changing their name or gender.
“I hope the SNP Government act on these new findings and finally do what is necessary to improve the recording and tracking of offenders who develop a new identity.”
Police Scotland detective superintendent Louise Harvie said the force proactively enforces the Sex Offender notification requirements and reports all breaches to the Procurator Fiscal.
“Public safety is a top priority and in Scotland robust Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA), provide a comprehensive response to a complex issue, using professional assessment and management to properly target resources at those who pose a risk to the public,” she said.
“We keep the number of missing and wanted registered sex offenders (RSOs) under close scrutiny and give the highest priority to locating them.
“Police Scotland works proactively with our UK and international law enforcement partners to locate wanted or missing RSOs as quickly as possible.”
The Home Office said it has “some of the toughest powers in the world to deal with sex offenders”.
“Public protection is a priority for this government and we have some of the toughest powers in the world to deal with sex offenders,” a spokesperson said.
“To ensure registered sex offenders cannot hide their criminal past, they must notify police of their personal details every year and whenever they change – this includes any name changes.
“Failure to comply, including providing false information, is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
“We have further strengthened the regime for managing registered sex offenders and those who pose a risk through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.”
STV News has asked the Scottish Government for comment.