North East Wales

Police criticised over child sex suspect public alert

Michael Leaberry Image copyright North Wales Police
Image caption Michael Leaberry

North Wales Police has been criticised for a delay in warning the public about a missing suspected child sex offender.

Michael Leaberry failed to return to Flintshire for a bail appointment in September in connection with alleged child sex offences.

North Wales and Suffolk police officers described him as a "missing person" in a joint appeal in November.

On Wednesday, police said he could pose a risk to children, prompting questions about the time it took to alert people.

The force said it made the decision to avoid "undermining any subsequent criminal proceedings".

'Earliest opportunity'

An NSPCC Cymru spokesman said: "The police often have to make complex operational decisions about whether to make a public appeal for information based on the intelligence they have about a suspect.

"However, we'd expect serious consideration be given to alerting parents, schools and the wider community at the earliest possible opportunity when someone is thought to pose a risk to children."

Delyn MP David Hanson said: "It is very important that the full information is provided. A missing person enquiry is very different to seeking someone in connection with a criminal offence.

"The police should review the approach they have taken."

Image copyright North Wales Police
Image caption Michael Philip Leaberry failed to answer police bail in September 2015

'Careful consideration'

A North Wales police spokesman said: "Since Michael Leaberry has been missing, North Wales Police, in conjunction with Suffolk police, have pursued all lines of enquiry to try and trace his whereabouts and safeguard the public.

"These enquiries have continued since Michael Leaberry failed to answer bail.

"Due to those enquiries proving negative, and after careful consideration that we do not undermine any subsequent criminal proceedings, we took the decision to release his full details and seek the support of the public."

According to police, Michael Leaberry, also known as Stephen Bugman, left north Wales in January 2015 and moved to Ipswich, Suffolk and later to Essex.

He failed to answer police bail in September 2015, but he is believed to have been in Ipswich on 29 September.

Officers said they have failed to locate him despite extensive enquiries in the south east of England.

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