UK Liberty

Is the vetting of millions of people a proportionate response to the murder of two children?

Posted in database state, law and order, surveillance society by ukliberty on September 17, 2008

In attempting to play safe and reduce our risk to zero (which is of course impossible), are we doing more harm than good?

The Daily Telegraph:

A new Home Office body aimed at preventing another Soham murder tragedy could be at “significant risk” of failing, Government auditors said.

The Independent Safeguarding Authority will vet millions of people, including teachers, volunteers and school bus drivers.

The Government estimates 11.3 million, the Register estimates 14m – this Register article, by the way, and those it links to, looks like the best coverage of this issue.

Every applicant will have to go through a criminal record check, but the Criminal Records Bureau is in danger of failing to deliver its part of the programme, it has admitted.

An internal audit report for the CRB warned: “The agency recognises that there remains a significant risk to delivering its part of the ISA Programme effectively and will be giving priority to addressing that risk in the coming months ahead.”

Separately, Ros Gardner, the independent complaints mediator at the CRB, said she was concerned that complaints about the CRB could rise when the new ISA is set up.

This is despite a fall from 47 to 20 in complaints about the work of the CRB dealt with by her department last year.

Home Office officials insisted the programme was still on track, pointing out that the ISA deadline to go live of October 12 2009 was set – in agreement with the CRB – after this internal report was written.

One official said: “This date is realistic and we are confident it will be met. There is currently no suggestion of that date moving.”

The ISA will hold one list of those barred from working with children and another from working with vulnerable adults.

I don’t think the content of the lists will be new.  They will be respectively based on the PoCA (Protection of Children Act) List, formerly “managed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) on behalf of the Department of Health (DH), of people banned from working with children”, and the PoVA (Protection of Vulnerable Adult) List, formerly “managed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) on behalf of the Department of Health (DH), of people banned from working with vulnerable adults” (source: the CRB’s Glossary).

(There is another list, which used to be called List 99 (I don’t know what it’s called now), which I am sure will be used with people applying for teaching positions (at least).  This list “is maintained by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and contains the details of teachers who are considered unsuitable or banned from working with children in education” (relevant legislation).  This isn’t limited to those suspected (or convicted) of sexual offences against children: it also includes those accused of misconduct or deception, for example.)

Councils also have their own lists.

And of course the absence of a name from a list doesn’t prove the person has never or will never abuse children or vulnerable people.

Applicants who need clearance for work will be charged a one-off fee of £64.

Volunteers will not be charged. More than eleven million people are predicted to have to pass the vetting regime.

The scheme was designed to prevent someone like caretaker Ian Huntley who murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, Cambridgeshire, being given a job at a school despite allegations of rape and indecent assault against him.

OK.  But there seems to be no indication of any thought given to those who are wrongly accused  – there appears to be no ‘weighing up’, if you will, of the risks to vulnerable people against the risks to those seeking employment – no cost-benefit analysis, where one cost is that a wrongly accused person (also see this article) will be prevented from getting a job.

It seems the risk to children, however small (where is the evaluation process?) is seen as outweighing what should be a right to seek employment in whatever position you choose.

And it’s not just those who are wrongly accused job seekers who will be affected: if you haven’t been vetted you may be excluded from taking part in otherwise normal, everyday activities.

Professor Frank Furedi (see also this):

Beverly was all set to volunteer for her five-year-old daughter Mary’s school party last March. She was shocked when she learnt from a teacher that she was not welcome as she hadn’t been vetted by the Criminal Records Bureau.

“Those parents who were not vetted had to wait outside the school hall while the party went on,” recalls Beverly, adding that she felt humiliated about being treated as a “second-class-mum”.

Beverly’s experience is far from unique. Alka Sehgal-Cuthbert is still seething with anger as she tells me about a flyer sent to parents at her son’s primary school. It instructed them not to attend a children’s Christmas disco unless they were CRB checked. “The discos are known as fun-filled noisy events, not potential danger zones for children,” says Alka. There was no explanation. As far as the school was concerned, this was a common-sense precaution in a world where a climate of suspicion shapes perceptions of adult behaviour towards children.

Now, of course I do not intend to give the impression that what happened to Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman was not a horrific tragedy.

But is this approach, the keeping of these lists affecting so many people and so many activities, and the authorities ‘playing it safe’ by excluding you based on unproven allegations and no CRB check at all, a reasonable and proportionate approach?

Surely we must recognise that there will always be risk in what is a (relatively, fairly) free society?

Parents are not being allowed into Christmas discos.  A large proportion of adults are being put off volunteer work – with consequences for children (e.g. 50,000 girls excluded from joining Girl Guides because of a shortage of adult leaders).  Adults are put off from reassuring children.

Where are we going with this, and where do we want to end up?

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