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.