Child protection groups slammed the police today for failing to alert the public to an alleged ”dangerous” paedophile who has been on the run – for FOUR MONTHS.
Wanted Robert Hands, 53, vanished in July after failing to appear in court on 26 serious sex offence charges including child rape.
But despite being described as ”potentially dangerous” by police, detectives have only now issued a public appeal to track him down.
Avon and Somerset Police claim they are following national guidelines which require them to exhaust all lines of enquiry before alerting the public.
But child protection groups accused the force of ”pussy-footing” around.
Pete Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), said: ”If it was someone who had robbed a bank there would be an appeal immediately.
”But because it was somebody accused of child abuse, they are being protected. There is no crime quite like child abuse for excuses about why police won’t take action.
”It is robbing a child of their innocence and police need to act quickly. It’s time they stopped pussy-footing around.”
Pony-tailed Hands was facing trial for 26 sex charges allegedly committed between 1999 and 2009.
They include four counts of rape, six counts of sexual activity with a child, with penetration, and three of sexual activity with a child without penetration.
He also faces three counts of indecent assault on a girl under 13, three of indecency with a child, two of inciting sexual activity with a child and five of making indecent images of children.
But he went missing after failing to appear for a procedural hearing at Bristol Crown Court on July 29.
He was on bail despite previously going missing in March 2009, when police issued a public appeal to track him down when he vanished for a week following a family funeral in Worcestershire.
Avon and Somerset Police released an appeal to catch Hands on Tuesday (30/11), claiming he was prone to changing his appearance and warning the public not to approach him.
They said bearded Hands, originally from Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, was last seen at his bail address in Worcester.
A police spokesman said: ”We would not issue an appeal until we have looked into all investigations to track down the offender.
”The public were not notified initially of his disappearance because every avenue for police investigation to find him has to be exhausted.
”The police have to act on intelligence in every single location and area in which they know he has links and officers followed procedure in this case
”It’s all in the Association of Chief Police Office (ACPO) guidelines. We have had to go to different areas to try investigate this, and that takes time.
”We haven’t just been waiting around – people have been working on this for four months.”
Hands is described as white, about 5ft 9in tall, of a heavy build, with shoulder length brown and greying hair – which he frequently ties in a ponytail.
He also has a grey beard, sometimes in a goatee style, blue eyes and a scar on the left side of his abdomen.
As well as Worcester, police also said Hands has links with Droitwich.
Children’s charity NSPCC called for police to take ”swift” action when suspects go missing.
A spokesperson said: ”It is essential that there are systems in place to ensure that offenders are carefully and appropriately managed in the community and that swift action is taken when an offender goes missing.
”Child sex offenders who go underground pose a very real risk to children. In the interests of child protection, they must be found.
”We urge people to contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 if they are worried about someone’s behaviour towards a child and are unsure whether to contact the police.”