UK Liberty

For the sake of the children: parents to find out about unsubstantiated allegations

Posted in law and order, surveillance society by ukliberty on September 15, 2008

The Daily Telegraph (also see The Independent):

Despite ministers admitting of concerns the laws could spark a wave of claims, officers will be able to tell worried parents about the history of someone who has access to their children, if they think they could be dangerous.

They will give out details of convictions, arrests and acquittals for child sex and violence offences as well as unproven suspicions kept on file.

Of course – what could be more fair than telling someone about unproven suspicions?

Police want single mothers to ask for information about their new boyfriends

Women are never sexual offenders?

and believe those under suspicion will welcome the opportunity to prove they have nothing to hide.

Yes, I’m sure a new boyfriend will welcome the opportunity to refute the accusation that he is a paedophile.  Something to talk about over breakfast, perhaps!

Grandparents and neighbours can also demand that police look into the records of anyone – even teenagers – who come into contact with their friends’ or family members’ children.

Officers, meanwhile, will pass on the results of their investigation to the child’s parents, carers or guardians.

Why not take out an advert in the national press?

The pilot schemes, which come into force in four police forces across England, are being set up following a campaign for “Sarah’s Law” – the public disclosure of the names and addresses of paedophiles named in honour of Sarah Payne.

The campaign was established after the eight year-old was murdered by convicted sex offender, Roy Whiting, in 2000.

Officers, however, said the new scheme does not go that far as measures called on by child protection campaigners.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said: “Giving parents the ability to find out if someone close to their child poses a risk will empower them.”

And it will also pose risks to the people they are trying to find out about.  But let’s not worry about them.

Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister, admitted there were concerns that “huge numbers of claims” could be made by worried parents but he insisted: “We don’t believe that doing nothing is appropriate and in the best interests of our children.” Critics however, warn the scheme would create a climate of suspicion with thousands of innocent people having their lives scrutinised.

They also fear it could lead to vigilante attacks on people found to have child sex convictions.

Not just that, but there will also be cases of mistaken identity, and some people will even confuse sexual preferences with occupations, so Coaker will forgive me if I think it is a bad idea on that score.

The announcement comes after The Telegraph revealed that all adults who work with children and are accused of abuse must be investigated by council officers and have details of the claim, even if it was totally malicious, kept on their personnel records until they retire.

In addition, 11.3 million people who work or volunteer with under-16s will from next year have their backgrounds scrutinised by a new vetting body.

Qui custodiet ipsos the vetting body?

Guy Herbert, general secretary of the civil liberties group No2ID, said: “It’s virtually a return to the witch trials, and is the logical conclusion of our zero-trust society. Everybody is being encouraged to be suspicious of everybody else.

“The police won’t be able to isolate the information once they release it, and it will be full of unsubstantiated allegations and suspicions. It is potentially incredibly dangerous.”

Donald Findlater, of the child protection charity Lucy Faithfull Foundation, added: “The biggest risk to children is not from the registered sex offender who the police know and are managing; it is from the sex offender who is not registered and who no one knows about.”

Well that’s why everyone who comes into contact with anyone who in turn will come into contact with children will be encouraged to ask for the record of that person’s alleged sexual offences. Duh!

Under the pilot schemes, which will run for a year in Warwickshire and parts of Cambridgeshire, Cleveland and Hampshire, anyone can phone or email police to request information on someone who lives in the same area and has regular and unsupervised access to children – whether they work with them or see them socially.

Within 24 hours, officers will check criminal records to see if the child is at immediate risk from the adult.

Over the next 10 days they will contact social services and child protection bodies, in order to look deeper into the subject’s past.

Seems like a recipe for disaster.

If they uncover any evidence that the subject has a record for child sex offences, neglect or domestic violence they will disclose it to the parent or carer. If a grandparent or neighbour made the request, the information would not be passed to them but directly to the parent.

If the parent chooses not to act on the information, police or social services may step in.

And do what?!  Has a crime been committed? If so then it should be reported and the police should deal with it.  If not then what do the police have to do with it?

Why pass on unproven suspicions, in particular, to anyone?

Paul West, the Chief Constable of West Mercia police, said: “If there is no support from that parent then the agencies would have to work through what can be done.”

He believes subjects may be happy to take part in the investigations, however.

Mr West said: “A woman who has had bad experiences in the past, meets someone and is keen to settle down.

“They talk through this and the subject is party to this, to get a third-party assurance to the clean bill of health which he claims to have.”

Yeah right!  Of course some will be understanding in that sense.  But others will think, “I’m innocent and don’t deserve to have my background probed, if she doesn’t trust me I’m off”.

Police may also choose to disclose that the subject is merely “showing worrying behaviour”,

Such as?

or was arrested or acquitted of a crime.

Acquitted means, “not guilty”.  Why would I be interested in knowing that someone is not guilty of a crime?

A leaflet produced about the scheme states: “Even if a subject doesn’t have a record for child sex offences it doesn’t mean that he or she is not potentially a risk.”

All men are potential rapists?

Sara Payne, the mother of the murdered schoolgirl, said: “I would hope this becomes a routine, when you have a strange person in your life.”

God knows what we did before databases.

Police insist all applications will be checked before information is released to the public, and warn they may take action against anyone who shares details with others or makes it public.

Of course by then it may be too late.

The pilots could lead to a nationwide scheme if they are deemed a success.

What is the statutory basis for this?  Have we had a debate in Parliament, and passed the relevant legislation?

(By the way, legal eagles – if a 16 year old boy has sex with a 15 year old girl – consensual, though of course she can’t in a legal sense consent – is he committing a sexual offence, and will he therefore turn up on one of these witch hunts routine checks?)

There is a good comment on the Telegraph article:

What standard of proof will have to be presented to show that the people are in a relationship?

What is to stop my nosey neighbour checking me out?

Will I be informed that she has requested a report?

Will I be able to object to her receiving the report?

Will the number of reports requested be held on my record?

Will the Data Protection Act be weakened? [not sure what he means by that]

Will I be able to complain if she seeks a report gratuitously and what action would then be taken against her?

If I refuse permission for a report, and she publishes that fact, can I seek damages for defamation?

I would add:

  • How will we measure success?

One Response

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  1. Paula said, on September 15, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Nice points you posted here. Indeed, we all need to check up on the advantages and disadvantages of things like this first.

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