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Hundreds of innocent people 'wrongly branded criminals', by CRB checks
By Christopher Hope 5th July 2008
Hundreds of innocent people have been wrongly branded as criminals by the Government agency set up to vet people working with children, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Thousands of people are being forced to have multiple CRB checks for different jobs because the checks are currently not transferable.
People applying to take up jobs as teachers, nurses, childminders and even those volunteering to work with youth groups are likely to have been among those falsely accused of wrongdoing by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).
Those wrongly accused by the CRB face having their careers blighted or being stigmatised by their communities. They also face having to endure an appeals process to clear their names.
The CRB, an agency of the Home Office, was set up to vet those working with children or vulnerable people. It carries out checks on criminal convictions, cautions and reprimands, while an enhanced check also examines any other “relevant and proportionate” information held by local police forces.
However, figures seen by The Daily Telegraph disclose that in the year to February 2008, 680 people were issued with incorrect information on their background checks by the CRB.
The disclosure is likely to deter many from applying for positions which require a check.
The Daily Telegraph has further learnt that the CRB agency is plagued by delays and mistakes which is jeopardising its efficiency. It is the latest Government agency to face questions over its handling of sensitive personal data.
Ministers are planning a massive increase in the number of criminal records checks carried out on members of the public. The number of checks processed annually by CRB has risen from 1.5 million in 2002-04 to almost three million over the past year.
Under future plans, more than 11 million adults - one in four of the adult population in England - will have to be vetted and registered on the authority's database.
Last night, the Conservatives said that blocking innocent people from working with children was "completely unacceptable" and that the CRB needed an urgent overhaul. It has also emerged that:
* More than 50,000 people requiring detailed "enhanced checks" because they work unsupervised with children had to wait more than two months for their applications to be processed;
*CRB forms are now so complicated that 240,000 applications are wrongly filled in by organisations confused by the forms;
*The system is so inflexible that thousands of people are being forced to have multiple CRB checks for different jobs because the checks are currently not transferable from one to another;
*The agency's 450 staff took a total of more than 5,000 days off sick last year - the equivalent of more than two working weeks per person.
David Ruffley, a shadow Home Office minister, said: "Nearly 700 mistakes that could ruin people's lives is 700 too many. There is an emerging crisis of public confidence in the handling of this public information.
"These delays are completely unacceptable, causing havoc for voluntary organisations that are desperate to take on volunteers or employees.
"These appalling delays are compounded by the CRB sick-note culture. The whole of the CRB lost a massive 5,506 working days are lost due to sickness. This equates to a staggering 1,000 lost working weeks a year.
"Jacqui Smith (the Home Secretary) is responsible for this continuing incompetence, mismanagement and delay. Despite obvious public concern she seems incapable of getting a grip."
Campaigners said the situation will get worse next year when it will become illegal not to pass on suspicions about someone at institutions that work with children.
Josie Appleton, convenor of the Manifesto Club, said: "This is shocking but not surprising. More and more tittle tattle will end up at police stations. It is part of the paranoia about child protection where every accusation sticks.
"Accusations have to be investigated rationally and sensibly and convicted or acquitted according to the evidence. The bigger and more cumbersome you make the system, the more likely it is that mistakes will be made."
The Home Office last night admitted that mistakenly branding innocent people as criminals was "regrettable".
A Criminal Records Bureau spokesman said: "The Criminal Records Bureau's first priority is to help protect children and vulnerable adults, and we will always err on the side of caution to help ensure the safety of these groups.
"Since 2004 the CRB has stopped 80,000 unsuitable people working with vulnerable groups with a disclosure accuracy of 99.98 per cent.
"The CRB is acknowledged as an improvement on previous checking arrangement, although checks which do not correctly reveal a persons true criminal record are still clearly regrettable - even if they do represent a tiny proportion of all CRB checks."
Organisations can use the CRB to apply for a check on successful job applicants. A copy of the results of the check is sent to the job applicant and the organisation.
Anyone who has incorrect information about them on a CRB check is able to appeal to the CRB with nine out of 10 of these cases resolved within three weeks.
Last month a report from respected sociologist Prof Frank Furedi found that an increase in child protection measures is so great it is "poisoning" relationships between the generations.
In a report for the think-tank Civitas, he says the use of CRB checks to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults has created an atmosphere of suspicion.
Prof Furedi's report, Licensed to Hug, highlighted examples of when adult-child relationships are distorted by the need for CRB checks that are already required by schools and other organisations.
In one example, a woman could not kiss her daughter goodbye on a school trip as she had not been vetted.
Another mother was surprised to be told by a parent that she and her husband were "CRB checked" when their children played together.
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