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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Bichard calls for child register
Sir Michael Bichard
Sir Michael Bichard urged the police to prioritise intelligence
People who want to work with children could be issued with a card or licence showing they have been vetted, Sir Michael Bichard has said.

Sir Michael said he wanted to see the introduction of a national registration scheme as soon as next year.

His inquiry into the Soham murders made a raft of suggestions to improve practices and reassure the public.

But he warned there was no guarantee a "sufficiently devious" person would be stopped even by new measures.

Key recommendations

Sir Michael's 200-page report into police and vetting procedures found "errors, omissions, failures and shortcomings which are deeply shocking".

He said the "very serious failings" of the system meant he could not be sure Ian Huntley, found guilty of murdering schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, was the only person to have "slipped through the net".

As a result he made 31 recommendations to improve systems nationally, in five key areas:

  • A registration scheme for those wishing to work with children or vulnerable adults

  • The urgent introduction of a national police intelligence system for England and Wales

  • A clear code of practice for all police forces on record creation, retention, deletion and sharing

  • Training for head teachers and school governors on how to ensure interview panels safeguard children

  • Guidance to social services on when they should refer cases involving underage sex to the police

Sir Michael said the proposed register should be accessible to any employer - even parents taking on a tutor or sports coach - and would confirm whether there was any known reason why an applicant should not work with children.

Ian Huntley
Soham Village College did not check Ian Huntley's references

It would be regularly updated with new convictions and those on it could be asked to carry a licence or card, Sir Michael said.

The applicant would have the right to appeal if their registration was refused - before the prospective employer was told of past convictions.

Sir Michael said the Home Office would decide whether to tie in his proposals with plans for a national identity card scheme.

"It is easy to see how it can fit alongside," he said. "If we don't have an identity card, I'm still recommending a licence scheme whether or not it has hard evidence in terms of a card or licence."

I'm not suggesting every teacher needs an identity card before they are allowed into a school
Sir Michael Bichard

The register could save money within five years, he said.

He said a card with biometric details "would provide real advantages in checking identity" but acknowledged the danger of forgeries undermining the system.

Sir Michael said at least one person on each interview panel of head teachers and school governors must be trained in ways to question job applicants with child safety in mind.

But, he said: "I'm not suggesting every teacher needs an identity card before they are allowed into a school."

He urged the Home Office to take the lead in making the development of a national intelligence system for England and Wales "a priority".

When priorities have had to be made, intelligence seems to have been put on the back-burner
Sir Michael Bichard

He criticised a "regrettable" lack of progress on the task - drawing comparisons with Scotland, where a system should be running by the end of the year - and said interim measures should be in place by 2005.

He said individual police forces must take a "mature" approach towards sharing intelligence and recognising its importance.

"When priorities have had to be made, intelligence seems to have been put on the back-burner," he said. "I'm making a plea for it to be made a priority in the immediate future."

He said a new national code of practice was needed to give clear guidance to police forces on creating and maintaining records.

'Devastating consequences'

It should also advise on how information was shared with agencies like social services.

Sir Michael said he was concerned "the issue of underage sex may not be taken sufficiently seriously" by social services and the police.

He said national guidelines should set out when cases must be referred to police and urged social services departments also to keep records of incidents not referred.

He said the Data Protection Act, although "inelegant", was not to blame for the failure by police to keep Huntley's records - and lessons must be learnt.

Sir Michael concluded: "We should never forget how important apparently dry-looking systems can be - and we should never undervalue the people who administer them.

"The consequences of when these systems go wrong can be devastating."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Westhead
"A central register would be a massively complex exercise"


Sir Michael Bichard
"I have discovered errors, failures, omissions and shortcomings which are deeply shocking"



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