WHEN Benny Murray was caught breaking into a woman’s house with a blood dripping axe, little did anyone know he was already a convicted rapist known as the ‘night prowler.’

The 48-year-old had been living in relative anonymity in Highwood Close after changing his name upon release from prison.

His neighbours had no idea that he had previously committed a series of sex attacks, including raping a woman and sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl.

At the time he was called Robert Curtin and was jailed for 13 years, but on release from prison in 2016 he changed his name to Murray and came to live in Breightmet.

He was being monitored by the police and his offender manager regarded him as being of medium risk of reoffending — but families living nearby had no idea about his past.

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Murray is not alone in seeking to hide his real identity from the community he lives in.

In 2016 a Freedom of Information request revealed that, nationally, at least 800 sex offenders had changed their names by deed poll.

This is likely to be a vast underestimate as only 18 out of the country’s 45 police forces responded to the request for information. Greater Manchester Police was amongst those which did not respond.

The sex offenders’ register is a list of individuals who have been convicted, cautioned or released from prison for a sexual offence against children or adults since 1997.

Offenders are required to provide information to the police including their name and address for a length of time depending on the crime they have committed, with some people remaining on the register for life.

But while sex offenders must inform the authorities if they are using a different name, there is nothing to prevent them changing their identity by deed poll, so disguising their criminal past from people around them.

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The situation has been criticised by Bolton North East MP Sir David Crausby, whose constituency included Breightmet where Murray lived.

“It does seem to me that there is not much point in a sex offenders’ register if you can change your name and effectively opt out of it,” he said.

“It is a really difficult issue. I can completely understand why people with children would not want to live next door to a convicted sex offender.”

However, he added that he would not be in favour of names on the sex offenders’ register being made public.

“My heart says I would but my head says not,” he said.

“It would encourage more people to go under the radar.”

Organisations which support victims of sex offenders are also concerned about offenders’ ability to hide their past.

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Fay Maxted, chief executive of The Survivors Trust, an umbrella agency for rape and sexual abuse support services said: “Our member agencies work with over 90,000 victims/survivors each year. We know how devastating the impact of sexual violence can be for a victim and how that impact can stay with them for years affecting every aspect of their life. It seems grossly unfair that a sexual offender can wipe the slate clean by changing their name, when victims continue to live with the consequences of these heinous crimes. How can our communities ever be made safe when sexual offenders can hide in plain sight in this way?

“There is an argument for perpetrators not being allowed to change their name when this can be used to conceal the risk they pose.”

Last year MPs on the All Parliamentary Justice Group on Digital Crime called for new laws to stop criminals changing their names.

Group chairman MP Liz Saville Roberts told Sky News: “The present system is effectively giving criminals more rights to disappear than it is giving victims the right to know the history, say, of new partners or people who might be attempting to defraud them.

“I’m calling on the government to require every criminal who wants to change their name by deed poll to declare any unspent convictions.”

The risks posed by sexual and violent offenders are assessed and managed by police, the prison service and probation services under guidance from Multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA).

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice would not comment on whether sex offenders should be prevented from changing their identities but said that robust procedures are in place to help protect the public once they are released from prison.

She stressed: “All sex offenders on licence are subject to strict conditions, which might include exclusion zones and treatment programmes and can be recalled to prison if they fail to comply. They are also subject to the sex offenders’ register.

“All registered sex offenders are managed by MAPPA, which ensures they are managed robustly by the National Probation Service (NPS) and the police and we will be building on this. MAPPA monitoring allows for greater information sharing between agencies and more robust monitoring of offenders.

“We keep offending behaviour programmes under constant review, to ensure that they are effective in reducing reoffending and protecting the public. The Horizon, internet Horizon and Kaizen programmes for sex offenders draw on the latest international evidence on effective treatment for this cohort of offenders.

“We have also introduced a range of programmes to treat the most dangerous contact sex offenders, as well as a programme specifically tailored to internet sexual offending.”

The Bolton News approached a number of organisations which support ex-offenders but none were willing to comment.