11 Feb 2011

Child worker checks to be relaxed

Millions of people who work with children will no longer need criminal record checks. Author Philip Pullman tells Channel 4 News it is a “return to the land of common sense”.

Child worker vetting checks to be relaxed (Getty)

Only those working most closely with children or vulnerable adults will now need to undergo a criminal records check.

The results will be able to move with people when they change jobs, cutting down on bureaucracy according to the Government.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the current messy system that “defies common sense will be scaled back to sensible levels whilst at the same time protecting vulnerable people”.

The previous government set up the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) in 2009 in response to the murder of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham.

More than nine million people working or volunteering with children and vulnerable adults will be freed from the need to register and be monitored by the state following an overhaul of the checking regime.

The changes are part of the Protection of Freedoms Bill.

This isn’t about safeguarding children it’s about saving money and pandering to certain individuals. Mark Williams-Thomas, Child safety expert

Other changes include tighter rules for storing innocent people’s DNA, limits on police stop and search powers and an end to wheel-clamping on private land.

Mr Clegg said: “Labour engaged in a 13-year assault on our hard-won British freedoms. The coalition Government is determined to hand them back to people.

“We inherited a messy criminal records regime that developed piecemeal for years and defied common sense.

“Our reviews concluded that the systems were not proportionate and needed to be less bureaucratic. They will now be scaled back to sensible levels whilst at the same time protecting vulnerable people.”

Problems with the current system included more than 12,000 innocent people being labelled as paedophiles, violent thugs and thieves through an error.

Councils have also banned parents from playgrounds saying only vetted “play rangers” would be allowed in.

Parents have also run into difficulties when trying to share the responsibilities of the school run.


Author Philip Pullman has been critical of the vetting and barring scheme because of the impact it has on writers visiting schools.

He told Channel 4 News this was a “welcome return to the land of common sense after years of tossing about on the sea of hysteria”.

He added: “The worst thing about the vetting and barring scheme was the intense and poisonous suspicion it encouraged. No-one was to be trusted; every adult must be suspected of evil intentions; nothing is safe anywhere.

“We can’t live that that. It’s high time it was thrown on the scrapheap.”

But the decision to reduce the number of criminal record checks has angered child safety campaigners.

Mark Williams-Thomas is a criminologist and child protection expert who told Channel 4 News the decision will “undoubtedly put children at risk”.

He said: “This isn’t about safeguarding children it’s about saving money and pandering to certain individuals including civil liberties groups and authors.

“We know a lot more about sex offenders that we didn’t know ten years ago.

“They’re cunning and they’re devious and they’ll seek out opportunities to be with children where vetting isn’t in place.”