by Blad Tolstoy
A woman who left four of her children plating in a park unattended whilst she took the fifth to a shop has been given a criminal record.
The reason for this occurrence was that the fifth child – a toddler – had petulantly demanded an ice cream whilst the family were enjoying some recreational time. In order to cope with a difficult situation, the mother left her four other children under the care of her nine year old, a responsible youngster, while she quickly popped to the shop for a few moments with her youngest.
On returning from the shop she found police officers talking to her other children. In response to the their concerns, the mother explained what had happened and all seemed to be well. She was also pleased that the police had acted so vigilantly.
A short while later, the same mother applied for a voluntary job as a Sunday school teacher with her local church. Imagine her surprise when she discovered that the “incident” in the park had been logged with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and that she had been labelled a risk to children. Consequently, she did not get the job.
Jane Clift, a former care worker from Slough, was threatened by a drunk whom she saw trampling flower beds in a local park. The police advised her to inform the local council which was campaigning for people to report anti-social incidents.
After several phone calls and a letter of complaint, because Miss Clift felt her case was not being taken seriously, she was horrified to receive a letter from the council telling her that she’d been placed on the register for potentially violent persons and classed as “medium level of threat” – the same as a sex offender. This information was then passed on to local organisations such as libraries, hospitals and schools and Miss Clift acquired “pariah” status.
It took her four years to clear her name. Last month a jury awarded her £12,000 in libel damages after finding that what had been recorded by Slough council about her “was not true”.
For these two cases, see:
A doctor who left his eight year-old son in his car whilst he went to the bank has been placed on the police and social services register.
The doctor had to go to the bank in Newton Abbot, Devon. He was accompanied in the car by his son and his father asked him if he wanted to come into the bank with him. The son declined the offer, preferring instead to stay in the car and play with his computer.
When the father returned some twenty minutes later, he was confronted by two police officers who asked him why he had left his child in the car whilst the son was hot.
In response, the father vainly tried to explain that the rooftop window was open and that his son was committed to playing with his computer and, moreover, he was capable of opening the door if needed.
The police nevertheless recorded all the details of the event plus all the details of the doctor’s family, including his other children, and informed him that they would be recorded on the police and social services register until all his children reached the age of eighteen.
Whilst everyone is concerned with the welfare of children and vulnerable adults this “checking” system goes far to far. In fact, what it means is that all adults who have any contact at all with children, particularly parents, are at risk. They are at risk because to have their names placed on the CRB register, or any similar registers, will ruin their lives and reputations forever.
Whilst many people would be content to have the names of proven sex or violent offenders placed on such registers, the fact that even the innocent can end up there is both shocking and disturbing.
In today’s radio version of Question Time (18/7/09) with Jonathan Dimbleby, the question was asked if it was only a matter of time before everyone who had any contact with children required a CRB check. Enter Harriet Harman to defend the government.
Harman is said to be a “blue stocking” but I have never found any of her comments at any time to particularly enlightening. Harman’s response to this question was emotive and undiscerning as she found no problem at all with the system in place.
The fact that it produces serious miscarriages of justice and deformations of character plainly does not concern her and she was content to play to emotional blackmail with the “it’s for the children” card.
Over the past five years, according to figures obtained form the Home Office by the Conservatives, a total of 12,225 disputes over inaccurate CRB checks have been upheld. This is because there are no real safeguards to challenge such records at the moment because of the way the law stands. In other words, once on the register you have no easy way to clear your name.
Worse still, is that the system depends on “soft” data. This includes police suspicions and subjective assessments and incidents when someone has been questioned and released. Similarly, even unsubstantiated information provided by informants in the community whose names are kept confidential is also taken into consideration. Subsequently, as was asked in the Daily Telegraph: how many people are wandering about unaware of any information that may have been stored about them?
As I consider these facts, I notice that where I live the children play in the street. They also sometimes wander unaccompanied to nearby common land. Under the circumstances described in the three abovementioned cases, this means all their parents could be liable to find themselves placed on the CRB register. Furthermore, if an innocent parent is placed on the register and, as a result of which, they find their job prospects destroyed, how are they then going to be able to work to sustain their families? Also, as the stigma from such an event will also rub off on the children, how is that for their good?
One of the other many negative effects of this policy is that it has certainly reduced the number of people wishing to work with children and vulnerable adults in the voluntary sector.
For a more detailed outline of some of the points of concern see Prof. Frank Furedi’s article at Civitas:
and also his book, co-written with Jennie Barlow:
“Licence to Hug”
Penultimately, let me reiterate, whilst it is very important that children are protected from paedophiles and others who would wish them harm, it is also important that miscarriages of justice are not tolerated either. Yes, there are those who will argue that miscarriages of justice are inevitable, and maybe so, but that does not mean they should be considered an acceptable way of dealing with a problem. Moreover, one miscarriage of justice is bad enough but for there to be at least a possible 12,225 is unforgivable.
The end does not justify the means and it makes a mockery of our law and any notion of justice. Lastly, for those who use the argument that we have nothing to fear if we are innocent, let me say: keep your mendacious platitudes. The underlying implication of the current CRB system is that even the innocent can be criminalised and of that we have much to fear.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
by Blad Tolstoy