Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

my blog
Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary, established 2003

Suspicious minds

This is my column for the Ham & High this week:

I’ve never forgotten a woman coming to my advice surgery and sobbing her heart out. Reason? Her young son – her young black son – had been stopped by the police while he was playing Hide and Seek in the grounds of a local hospital.

His mates had run off and left him to face the music. Rotten mates! Except he hadn’t done anything except play a game we have all played – with lots of good places to hide. His mother was crying because despite the police letting him go without any further action of any sort – this record would remain on a police national database. She was sobbing because she knew that when he grew up – if he applied for a job that required an enhanced criminal record bureau check – this ‘soft’ information would come up and might harm his job prospects.

Now I don’t know the boy – but his potential to employer, his ability to earn and his future might be entirely changed (and not for the better) by that simple bit of information from years before.

The Home Secretary and I have commissioned an independent review of Criminal Records Bureau checks. Obviously if someone is charged and convicted you would expect that information to remain on the police database – and it does. But in the area of ‘soft’ information (ie non-conviction information) at present this remains on the database too. And ‘soft’ information varies – anything from the above incident of playing Hide and Seek – to the sort of ‘soft’ information about Ian Huntley – the murderer in the Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman murder in Soham..

In the wake of Soham, we were all so horrified by what had happened – that child protection concerns resulted in the introduction of the Vetting and Barring Scheme. All those who would wish to work with vulnerable adults and children had to go through this scheme (which would include CRB checks) to be vetted and if necessary barred from such work. Lists are kept of those who are barred from such work by the scheme.

The consequences of this scheme would have been nine million people having to register – had it become fully operational.

So – the allied action the Government is taking is a review of the Vetting and Barring Scheme to scale it back – as per the coalition agreement – to common sense levels. We are just in the process of setting the Terms of Reference for this review.

The world of suspicious minds we all inadvertently created went too far. Together, these two reviews, Vetting and Barring and the Criminal Records checks, will help us get the balance right.

Thu 7 October 2010
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Comments

  1. Christina says:

    Glad to hear this is being reviewed with a sense of proportion.

  2. James says:

    The case you cite is ridiculous – its got nothing to do with the system of checks and everything to do with the police deciding that a black boy playing hide and seek is wrong. The problem is either police racism or incompetence, nothing to do with the keeping of records.

    Yet again, as with so many other policies, the coalition are hitting the wrong targets. The next child abused because an Ian Huntley becomes a caretaker as checks aren’t done, you will be to blame. Be sure you know what you are doing.

    It’s not your own life you are playing with.

  3. Harriet Harms Man says:

    That’s two articles covering hugely important issues in a row. Good to see.

    There is of course one glaring omission – that’s is mostly men who are falsely arrests or stopped by the police. Similarly it’s mainly men who have been hounded out of schools and out of the teaching profession altogether, with the resulting devastating consequences for children.

  4. Helen says:

    Lynne, you mention volunteer reading in schools. To do so, you give your name and date of birth to the school secretary. It’s needed for a List 99 check, not a CRB check. You describe this as ‘too many hoops.’ Really? And the ‘unwarranted suspicion’ that you mention isn’t there either. In fact most primary schools put out appeals for parents to become volunteer readers. I think you are working your way up to an attack on “Labour red tape” or something. Don’t bother, there are too many people who actually know about how volunteering works for you to succeed.

  5. Helen,

    List99 checks were abandoned under the last government as they were gearing up to introduce the ISA check under the VBS. I’m also a governor at a nearby school and in the last newsletter, they put out their usual request for parent helpers for school trips etc. except this time they specifically mentioned that a full CRB check would need to be done.

    The system changed a while back and I’m glad there is a review of the VBS being done as it is a prime example of how Labour mistrusted the British public, and went for headlines rather than common sense.

    The Bichard inquiry, set up after the Soham murders, itself said that had the VBS been in place the Soham murders would have happened anyway because a) although investigated for sexual offences Ian Huntley was never convicted and Humberside police had deleted information about Huntley’s prior investigations and b) he applied for the job at the school as Ian Nixon and not Huntley and as a result old records were not search for properly.

    In both examples a case of police failure which would still exist under the VBS and indeed the current CRB system which relies on information being provided by police forces.

  6. Tom Page says:

    Lynne

    This is a bit of an odd post. I’m not sure what the story of the boy playing hide and seek has to do with child protection. Such an incident would surely not show up on a List 99 check, so what relevance does it have? Are you saying that the reasons that people appear on List 99 checks are too broad? Can you provide some examples of the sort of incidents that make their way onto a List 99 check that shouldn’t appear there?

    Your title, suspicious minds, seems to imply that there is something unkind about being concerned about who gets to work with young children. I understand entirely where you might be coming from; that you do not want to put off genuinely enthusiastic adults from becoming engaged in children’s education. How onerous is a List 99 check, though? I certainly wouldn’t and won’t object to undergoing one should I get the chance to help out in my local school.

    Tom

  7. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lynne Featherstone, Cllr Colin Taylor, Daisy Benson, Alex Lambert, Nat Wei and others. Nat Wei said: RT @lfeatherstone: New post: Suspicious minds http://tinyurl.com/28ry6y4 [...]

  8. scruples says:

    I am someone who posted several ideas about this on the yourfreedom website which I hope will be seriously considered in the review of CRB checks.

    The CRB checking culture has gone way beyond what it was intended to do and is destroying people’s lives.

    The list of occupations requiring CRB checks is increasing despite those occupations never coming into contact with children or vulnerable adults. For instance, a person who works in a bank or any other financial institution is required to undergo a CRB check and an accountant is required to undergo an ECRB check. Why? In order that the bank and financial institutions can claim to their clients that they are risk free, tick all the boxes in their Sarbanes Oxley audits and maintain their risk ratings. The result is that anyone with any dubious soft information included in their CRB check will be discriminated against, pure and simple.

    There has been much debate recently regarding the inclusion of this soft information and other non-conviction data. Whilst everyone is quite rightly in uproar regarding the inclusion of false allegations made by disgruntled ex-partners, neighbours and children at schools, no one appears to be taking seriously the inclusion of other soft non-conviction data such as as Cautions, Reprimands and Warnings. There is still this premise that the person must have admitted they did something wrong and so the tag is justified. Not so. The procedures in which these cautions, reprimands, warnings etc are administered are informal and not always followed as has been proven on many occasion and the methods in which a person is made to accept guilt are often dubious. The recipient of such a caution has not been able to defend themselves and often has had no legal representation. And there is nothing to say that if the case went to court they would have been found guilty, many cases would simply be thrown out.

    In short, a caution, reprimand, warning, etc, etc is NOT a statutory conviction. Only those convictions received after a person has been able to defend themselves in a court of law, with access to legal representation in front of a qualified judge and jury should be treated as such and should therefore deem the person to have a criminal record.

    Why then are these penalties administered by the police treated as convictions and those with cautions as ‘ex-offenders’ who have been ‘rehabilitated’ after x amount of years? Because the Criminal Justice & Immigration Act in 2008 neatly slipped cautions into the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This is SO VERY WRONG and MUST be repealed. The ROA does not protect any one with a caution or indeed anyone with statutory criminal convictions from discrimination by employers when so many occuputations are now exempt from the ROA74.

    No soft information held by the police, be it false allegations, reprimands, warnings or cautions should be treated as a criminal record. Until a person has been convicted in a court of law, they should have no criminal record.

    The results are terrible. Educated, qualified, professional people with years of experience are now unable to work, are outcasts from the society they know, are often claiming unemployment benefit or worse, incapacity benefit because they are now ill with depression (and thus seeking medical treatment from the NHS). All of this is a drain on society, a cost to the state when all these people want to do is get back to work with their head held high and provide for themselves. Instead, they are serving a life sentence, often as hermits/recluses, unable to carry on with their lives. This is not overdramatic, this is happening.

    If they do apply for a job and reach the interview stage, they are forced to disclose and explain often harrowing events (not every caution involves a stolen packet of crisps or playing hide and seek) to their potential line manager and HR manager who effectively sit as judge and jury! And it does not stop with the recipient, everyone connected to that person suffers (husbands, wives, children, etc, etc) which means as well that private data is no longer private. Not everyone wants to reveal to their family a traumatic event in their past but are forced to when questions are asked as to why they are unable to work.

    This is a travesty to our human rights. Repeal S 115 7a and 7b Police Act 1997 and repeal the CJ&I Act 2008 s49sc10 which treats people with cautions, reprimands, warnings, etc as ‘ex-offenders’ when in actual fact they are STATUTORILY INNOCENT.

    Give people back their lives and the ability to provide from themselves or in a few years time the cost to the state will be huge and there will be blood on its hands as many people in this position are very, very depressed indeed.

  9. Ciaran says:

    I can’t figure out what the relevance of the colour of her son’s skin has to do with any of this. Must be something important, because you went out of your way to emphasise it.

  10. Dr Nigel Leigh Oldfield says:

    Nigel think he would like to work in a warehouse …

    “WAREHOUSE OPERATIVE

    Vacancy from Jobcentre Plus
    Job No:

    DCG/36412
    Wage

    £6.30 PER HOUR
    Hours

    40 HOURS P/W 3 SHIFT PATTERNS 8AM-4PM/4PM-12AM/12AM-8AM
    Location

    DONCASTER SOUTH YORKSHIRE DN1
    Duration

    Temporary
    Date posted

    07 October 2010

    Pension details No details held

    Must be able to pass a CRB check, Drugs &
    Alcohol Test & an Amazon Assessment Test for application to be taken
    forward.The employer has claimed an exception under the Equality Act
    2010 ”

    http://jobseekers.direct.gov.uk/detailjob.aspx?sessionid=180ab06f-8f1b-4a61-9c94-a87114081bd3&pid=1&j=DCG/36412

    NLO

  11. Ray says:

    What would stop me making an anonymous malicious telephone call about someone I had a grudge against?. Presumably the allegations I made would be investigated and would be found to be without substance of course. However that allegation would keep cropping up when the target had his/her next enhanced CRB and it would do so until he/she was 100. There are umpteen possible similar scenarios of course.

  12. Graham Cox says:

    Lynne,
    The ‘hide and seek’ case you refer to is a really good example. It sounds like the boy was found in the hospital grounds by police, proably after a call from the hospital. Kids do get into hospitals and steal things/do damage occasionally so quite right to check it out. The police presumably asked him what he was doing and may have searched him to check he had not stole anything (stop and search!) – all totally reasonable in the circumstances. Having satisfied themselves that he was playing hide and seek the common sense thing would be to a have a quiet word and send him home. However the police are required by equalities legislation to record the details. Not for intelligence purposes but to provide stats on the numbers of stop and searches. Another example of the law of unintended consequences. Rules brought in to ensure that police do not target minorities leads to an impact which has long term negative impact on those it was designed to help.
    The answer is to reintroduce discretion for front line staff – not just in policing – occasionally they will get it wrong but it will end this kind of nonsesne.
    Graham

  13. Ray says:

    In the example I gave above, unless the subject of my malicious call had been arrested or questioned about the allegations and they were instead investigated discreetly then he/she would have no knowledge of their existence and therefore have no way of defending themselves. You cant defend yourself against something that as far as you know doesnt exist!! They might begin to wonder however when they never got to the interview stage. Now thats Stasi stuff for you.

  14. [...] Writing in her local paper, the Hampstead and Highgate Express, Ms Featherstone starts with a sobering tale of a young black boy picked up by the police for the appalling crime of playing hide-and-seek on the grounds of a local hospital. No action ensued. But, of course, the record of the fact that this boy had been picked up – the “soft information” – would remain on file pretty much forever, and the result of a brief and innocent youthful jape could blight his entire life. [...]

  15. Joshua says:

    NHS whistleblowing and ‘OTHER RELEVANT INFORMATION’ section of ECRB disclosure.

    There are instances when criminal charges are pressed against NHS whistleblowers which are either dropped or do not lead to caution or conviction.
    Sometimes the trial ends up in a hung jury and subsequently collapsing of the case.

    The Government must make appropriate amendments in the legislation to remove unfounded allegations from the enhanced CRB disclosure under ‘OTHER RELEVANT INFORMATON” section. The Chief Police Officer should be given clear directions that if a whistleblower is alleged of any criminal offence and produces evidence of victimization in the form of concerns being raised on poor quality of services in the NHS prior to allegations (emails/notes of conversation/letters etc during ‘interview under caution” or afterwards) and subsequently charged, the information must not appear on the CRB nor if the charges are dropped or lead to no conviction or caution.

  16. Joshua says:

    LF , i hope the recommendations of Sunita Mason will be considered and the terms of reference will be set up soon with an amicable solution of this ongoing problem.

  17. scruples says:

    Joshua,

    With regard to the recommendations made by Sunita Mason, whilst they go some way to a better outcome, they are still discriminatory in principle and based on the incorrect premise that someone with a caution must be guilty of the crime.

    Discriminating against people based on the age they were when they received the caution or the implied severity of the ‘crime’ is as injust as the system in place now.

    Why? Because the caution or penalty is an informal penalty, administered by the police (an informal body) in an informal place. In short, it is NOT a statutory conviction. In order for it to be so, the person/recipient must have been charged and convicted after attending court (a formal place where procedures are followed), been given access to legal representation and the ability to defend themselves and have the conviction administered by a formal body (qualified judge).

    With many ‘admissions of guilt’ being made in dubious circumstances, where procedures have not been followed, or on the advice / cajolling of policemen (not lawyers), where legal advice has in many instances not been made available or has in fact been denied, there is nothing to say that a person aged 40 is any more guilty than someone who is 14 or that an alleged crime of common assault is any worse than theft.

    Until a person has had their day in court and been found guilty (whose to say most of the cases where cautions have been given would have made it to court anyway) they are STATUTORILY innocent.

    No discrimination. ALL cautions must be removed from CRB checks, they are non-conviction data, just the same as other ‘soft’ information held by the police.

  18. ReformPlease says:

    I would like to echo the points made by Scruples. After years in an absusive relationship, during which I as subject to death threats to myself and to my children, as well as other forms of abuse [including physical] my ex-husband reported an ‘assault’ to the police. Whilst feeling extremely threated I did push my ex-husband’s face when he appeared to be turning to threaten me. I wanted him out of my home. So, I’m allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ against a burglar, but not someone who has attacked me in the past? Despite my ex-husband’s admission to the police that he had kicked me whilst pregnant and his history of domestic abuse against me the police cautioned me. They did not pursue any charges against my husband. Thanks to CRB checks I feel completely excluded fom any profession (I am a hourly-paid university tutor [absolutely no financial or job security] and had hoped to train as a Primary level teacher). My children are suffering financially and my hopes of a career are completely dashed. My abusive ex walked away from my house without a mark, but my ability to provide for myself and my children has been dealt a crushing blow. Is this what CRB checks were meant to be about? People who accept cautions generally do so because they are completely unfamiliar with the insides of police stations. They accept them as a way to get home and because they are pressed on people who are often very vulnerable at the time. I was told to ‘accept the caution and forget about it’, not so easy when a criminal record (and it IS a criminal record to all intents and purposes, despite the police saying it isn’t…) pretty much ruins employment prospects, not to mention issues with insurance and travel. I have young children and I would prefer safeguards in schools such as children never being left alone with an adult rather than CRB checks, which only screen for paedophiles that have already been convicted. People pipe up ‘If you don’t want the time, don’t do the crime’, well they should try walking in my shoes and those of other’s who end up branded for life when they were, in fact, victims themselves.

  19. ReformPlease says:

    In response to the volunteering in schools remark – my son’s school requires a CRB check even for helping out on one-off trips. I don’t want to have to explain that I was a victim of domestic abuse, who ended up with a trumped-up assault caution. Result? I don’t volunteer.

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