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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 13:28 GMT
Soham: Have lessons been learned?
Ian Huntley

The Government has said the police must improve their system for inputting arrest and conviction details.

Home Office minister Hazel Blears said that a year-long study of forces' performance was "not encouraging, but new practices had been put in place.

The emergency statement came after it emerged Soham murderer Ian Huntley got a job working with children despite past allegations of rape and underage sex.

On Wednesday, Huntley was found guilty of the murders of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

What lessons can be learned from the Soham case?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

I work in a prison and have seen lives destroyed through false accusations. If he wasn't charged then the accusations can't be held on any database. As Ian Huntley didn't even work at the girls' school his job was irrelevant to his crimes.
Gill, UK

I was for years a coordinator of special needs play schemes for a local council. I had to interview staff for the posts of helpers. I filled in 15 forms for police checks for young people, all students, most of them at the local 6th form school. A cop came to give a road safety talk to the kids when we started, and I asked him about these forms as I'd heard nothing. The cop replied that when it's a case of young people, especially local students, applying for these jobs even with young and vulnerable children, they "don't bother" checking them! They sling the forms in the bin!
Chris, Tamworth, UK

Change the law so that when a crime is reported it always goes to court regardless of whether the victim is intimidated into withdrawing the allegation. We resolve two problems, people are put off making knowingly false allegations, situations such as Huntley will always go to court.
Simon Mallett, UK, Maidstone

Any of us could have an allegation put against us yet should we be denied our rights because of it?
Stuart Bushell, Grays
The thing is that Ian Huntley was never convicted of any crimes prior to the Soham incident. Although he had so many accusations against him it would not make any difference. Any of us could have an allegation put against us yet should we be denied our rights because of it? That contravenes the Innocent until Proven Guilty right that we all have. Or do we say that there is a limit to how many accusations we have before it becomes fact?

This man was a time bomb and no matter weather he was a caretaker at a school or not would not of made a difference - after all this crime took place on a Saturday and not in the school. Lessons will never be learnt because the human animal is so unpredictable.
Stuart Bushell, Grays

It's not the checking we should be focusing on, it's why prosecutions weren't brought against him. The checking is a red herring - the checks failed because of the grey area where crimes that a person isn't actually found guilty of can't be held on file, and this has credibility I think. The problem is why wasn't he prosecuted and why are thousands of rapes every year never brought to court?
Patricia, UK

It is not the law that is wrong, but the attitude and training of the people who apply it. In an age where we have become so dependant on computer technology, pure educational qualifications to reach senior posts and political correctness at the expense of common sense too many have forgotten the importance of experience and intuition.
Mike Butler, UK

However much you try to protect people you will never make it completely safe
Simon Rerrie, Birmingham, UK
If lessons are going to be learned from this then we must also look at why he did what he did, and not just how we can prevent it in the future. However much you try to protect people you will never make it completely safe, we are not perfect so we will make mistakes. What we must do is see why he did this and ask ourselves how can we help others to not make the choices he made.
Simon Rerrie, Birmingham, UK

Whilst it is correct that there should be an investigation into apparent shortcomings in some records systems, now is not the time for the media and armchair critics to harp on about who is to blame. We live in a society which increasingly appears to be more interested in scapegoating and calling for resignations. The tendency also for trial by media and for the media to manufacture rather than report the news is a worrying trend too.
Cairns, Merseyside

I have been working in Childcare for a year, in Schools and Private Day Care. I started my job around the time of the Soham Murders. I have a wonderful rapport with the children that I care for and have developed complete trust with them. As a mother myself I am really concerned that I have not been checked at all in that time. In my current position and previously I have reminded my employers that I have not been checked. I am now concerned about who is looking after my children and everyone else's if it is so easy for me to work in such an influential position.
Pauline, Warrington

The fundamental question is how do we monitor and stop sex pests before serious crimes are committed?
Mark Ashwell, Leicester, UK
While checks are important - how would this have stopped Huntley? - He was caretaker at a different school. The link was through his girlfriend and his occupation irrelevant to these girls. He could have lived next door to anyone of us. The fundamental question is how do we monitor and stop sex pests before serious crimes are committed?
Mark Ashwell, Leicester, UK

I wonder if all the people crying out about the police on this forum are the same ones that were so vehemently against ID-cards discussed in a forum just three weeks ago. Proper identification would have prevented this sad case.
Matt, Plymouth

It is the Data Protection Commissioner who should be answering the questions as to why this type of data was not captured and used. The issues for the senior police officers, who were covering their back from the Commissioner is the split between operational police information - criminal intelligence, and commercial information - Vetting Huntley for a School job. This is clearly not allowed under the privacy mania, so the police steer clear of it. Society has to decide do we protect the security of our children or the Privacy of people like Huntley - who we never convicted therefore as we are told could not be tagged!
Robin Urry, Edinburgh

How many more children must be targeted by these sick individuals before the system puts vulnerable individuals first, and not the 'data protection' rights of a potential offender who has a history of sexual predatory accusations behind him?
Liz E, UK

The only thing that should have any weight is a conviction in a court of law
Paul Sealey, Cannock, England
To those who would have allegations of sex offences logged for all time... think about this. What if you annoyed someone, your next door neighbour thought he'd get his own back on you for some silly squabble. What if he decided to make an allegation against you, you are innocent, but you go for a job in a school, or do some work within a youth group, only to find that you are barred from doing so because you have had allegations of child molestation made against you in the past. Still think it's a good idea? The only thing that should have any weight is a conviction in a court of law. Huntley is the only person responsible, no one else.
Paul Sealey, Cannock, England

Lessons are being learned but nothing substantial is being done about them. I think it is sad that children have to die to make us all lift our heads and take notice. We must remember that whilst we are all arguing over what to do about these problems or who is to blame, children are dying as a result. It is too late for Holly and Jessica but there are millions of other children who need to be protected from savage people like Ian Huntley. I fear this will not be the last lesson learned.
Steve, Scotland

The best way to live in this society must begin with the information about the criminal records of individuals; the police is responsible for this. However, in this case, I think that the police are not responsible. We shouldn't blame them. In this case, we should only blame Huntley.
Rui Laiginha Leal, Porto - Portugal

If we base our society on rumour and allegation as a reason for failing a police check, I am worried
Gavin, Edinburgh, Scotland
Whilst I sympathise with the calls for greater and more accurate checks to be made, it must be remembered that Huntley had no sex convictions before he murdered the girls. If we base our society on rumour and allegation as a reason for failing a police check, I am worried. An innocent man (it usually is a man) could have his life ruined by a malicious and unsubstantiated claim. This is not the way to protect our society.
Gavin, Edinburgh, Scotland

These murders are really sad and I have the deepest sympathy for all concerned. I agree, it would have been better if Huntley had not been employed in a school. But will wasting millions of pounds, establishing a 1984 style "Big Brother's watching you" system actually make life any better or safer for children. Surely it would be better to spend the money on paying the teachers, classroom assistants, caretakers and careworkers a living wage. Perhaps then there would be a real choice in who was actually employed at the sharp end.
P. Barber, London

Let's remember that the only person responsible for the deaths of the two girls is Ian Huntley. Whilst other organisations may have been able to stop Ian Huntley, they are not responsible for this tragedy.
James Goldman, London, UK

Yet another example of over-regulation and bureaucracy getting in the way of common-sense.
Rob, Cambridge, UK

I just think it is about time the government realised that they need to start to protecting the victims and not the offenders
Leslie, Manchester
Why is it that something tragic like this has to happen for the government to realise there is something terribly wrong with the way the system is run. It is so much easier to pass the blame than it is to accept responsibility for something you have done wrong. I just think it is about time the government realised that they need to start to protecting the victims and not the offenders.
Leslie, Manchester

Whether or not a conviction has been made they should still put all the names on the PNC. The police should learn from this case and get moving to get their records up to date as this could save other children's lives someday.
Kathy, London

The legal profession would be quick to litigate against the police and other authorities if arrests, rather than convictions, were used to disqualify people. It's called discrimination. Background checks and references are certainly crucial for those working around children, but can we ever fully protect them? Let's not forget these offences didn't occur in school.
David, UK

If you have nothing to hide then what is the problem?
Sanjay Said, London, England
Information sharing seems to be seen as some sort of breach of our individual rights in some quarters. Well it could be, but if it is done responsibly by a government then this sort of thing could be avoided. If you have nothing to hide then what is the problem?
Sanjay Said, London, England

Yes the police have a case to answer. Can we please let the Home Secretary proceed with the inquiry into their shortcomings, and let the nation move on, in the understanding that Huntley is behind bars, and actions will certainly come, to ensure the police are under no illusion as to their obligations in the future.
David Norris, Lytham, Lancs

As a society we can't have it both ways, either a person's past behaviour can be used to indicate his future behaviour and likelihood of being guilty of having committed an offence, or it can't. Currently the Human Rights lobby support the status quo.
John, UK

Based on some of the comments coming out from the media it looks like we're about to learn the wrong lessons. Blighting the lives of hundreds by extending the scope of reporting to allegations (which may well be malicious) will not stop dangerous adults from getting close to children. Let's spend more time educating our young in how to think and look after themselves. The world will never be a 100% safe place let's prepare them for that reality.
Mark Lowes, Somerset

Too many forms and bits of information spread around too many departments
Graham, UK
It doesn't need an inquiry, it is a simple failure of organisation. Too many forms and bits of information spread around too many departments with no clear organisational structure or chain of responsibility. Finance companies manage to do very thorough checks on all of us - why can't the public sector do the same on just a few people?
Graham, UK

Arrests which lead to a refused charge are not put on PNC because they are not convictions - doing so would be a breach of Human Rights legislation. Stop criticising the police and try and concentrate on the fact that society breeds these people. Running a murder inquiry is a task beyond the comprehension of most people in its complexity.
Tim, Bristol, England

If there were more competent people willing to go into the public and caring services rather than commenting on them then there might be some improvement. The various caring professions are underpaid and overworked in marked contrast to the various media pundits who take it upon themselves to criticise and be shocked.
Christian Tiburtius, UK

It has long been known the inordinate amount of time that a conviction takes to get registered on the system
Phillip Holley, Cambs
I cannot understand why so many people feel that someone needs to answer as to why past allegations did not come up in checks. I for one, would not expect an acquitted person to be blighted by accusations and investigations that have not been proven in a court of law. It is right that we should expect to be protected from the likes of Huntley but I feel it is the courts, police and investigators that have failed to convict him before now that are to blame, not the checks. That said, it has long been known the inordinate amount of time that a conviction takes to get registered on the system.
Phillip Holley, Cambs

Ian Huntley was accused and not found guilty in the past. There are many examples of false accusations every year. A false accusation can wreck the life of an innocent person - "there's no smoke without fire". Careers may be ended but that person has to go on living. If the accusations were kept on record they may never be able to rebuild a life.
Steve, Leics

Ian Huntley would have been a danger to young girls whether or not he had been employed in a school. There are clearly serious problems with the national police computer system and these need to be remedied quickly. But what no-one seems to be asking is how Ian Huntley managed to get away with so many serious sexual offences for so long, despite being well known to the police.
Suzanne B, Herts, UK

It is not good enough to say 'mistakes have been made' and 'information is still being put in the computer system late'. Surely someone is responsible for these mistakes and the continuing failures.
Brian Nathan,

Sad to say...I think not. Each time this happens we wring our collective hands and say "...never again" and we mean it for a short period. The most precious thing we possess is our children and we must protect them.
Terence Summers, Andover

This kind of ingrained complacency has to change and it must happen now
Andrew Wells, England
Only last week, despite the tragedy of Soham, my wife was told by a senior administrator at an international children's organisation that it does not request police checks on any of its volunteers because the risk of abuse is too small to warrant the expense. This kind of ingrained complacency has to change and it must happen now.
Andrew Wells, England

If Huntley had been caught out by police checks and not got the job in the school then the lives of Holly and Jessica might well have been saved, but I fear he would've still found other victims somewhere, somehow. People with a history like Huntley's need some sort of chip implanted so that their whereabouts can be known at all times. It's the only way and even then might not be enough to prevent their actions - it might simply mean that they are caught quicker.
Joseph, UK

My mother is caretaker of a primary school and I know from her that extensive checks are carried out on criminal records and of course the sex offenders' register. The problem here is that since none of the allegations were ever proven, Huntley had no record. For unproven allegations to bar someone from a job would be to abandon the principle of innocent until proven guilty on which all justice in the civilised world is based. The only failure here was a failure to convict him on any of the previous allegations.
CW, UK




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