Fears that barred people will still be able to work with vulnerable groups have resurfaced following a Freedom of Information request to the ISA
In July, a report by the Child Protection All Party Parliamentary Group concluded that the government must act to prevent changes to vetting and barring procedures in the Protection of Freedoms Bill that could allow unsuitable people to work with children. However under the proposed legislation currently going through parliament, people will only be eligible for disclosures if they have ‘unsupervised’ contact with children. And another proposed change means that, in future, the person must have committed the serious offence and the ISA or Secretary of State must have reason to believe they have worked in, are working in or may work in a regulated activity.
The Independent Safeguarding Authority information showed that 36 people were suspected of applying to work with children between 1 May 2010 and 10 August 2011 while barred. However the ISA’s annual report for 2010/11 also shows it had provided evidence to the police in relation to 215 people who tried to gain employment with children or vulnerable adults while barred. Campaigners fear the numbers of cases detected and pursued by police represent the tip of the iceberg because as of 31 March 2011, there were 35,654 people on the children’s barred list. This represents a 66 per cent rise on the figure for 31 March 2010 of 21,419. The true figure for offences committed could be far higher as individual police forces do not routinely inform the ISA of all cases where a person has engaged, or attempted to engage, in regulated activity.
Following a Freedom of Information request to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) made by Children & Young People Now, it has emerged that, since April 2006, just 19 people appeared before the courts charged with a total of 21 offences related to working with children while on the barred list. Of those 19, only 9 were recorded as being convicted of the offence, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. For the latest year available, April 2010 to March 2011, 6 charges proceeded to court against 4 people.
Jan Cosgrove, National Secretary of Fair Play for Children, said: “The government must consider urgently the implications of these figures. There needs to be a mandatory reporting system to the minister and the Association of Chief Police Officers, which tracks these issues, one based on centrally decided criteria that should determine when and how police forces must inform the ISA of such attempted breaches.” He added: “The misguided proposal in the Protection of Freedoms Bill needs a complete rethink. The one thing that should inform legislators on this is the compulsive, opportunist nature of such offending. These worrying figures reinforce that lesson.”
At present, anyone who has committed certain serious offences is automatically barred. The barred list includes all individuals who have committed sexual offences against children, as well as other specified sexual and violent offences. Discretionary bars can be made as a result of employers or other regulatory bodies referring relevant safeguarding information to the ISA, a key change introduced in the wake of the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by Ian Huntley in Soham in 2002. The ISA made 517 such discretionary bars in 2010/11.