Britain has long had a reputation for bureaucracy and red tape. There is a fanatical fastidiousness about British organisations and the public sector that keeps armies of admin and clerical workers documenting, verifying, copying and countersigning in duplicate and triplicate, all manner of data and detail for… I don’t know. I suppose it gives people who have a remarkable capacity for retaining a pulse whilst enduring chronically mundane tasks for 35+ hours a week a calling in life. However, despite this commitment to the finicky detail of detailing the details of data in order to ensure documentation is valid and secure, things still go tits up, failings are still made and fuck-ups do ensue. When this happens, there’s an ‘enquiry’, followed by a ‘report’, which is usually followed by a resignation, a tasty pay off, and the application of a new set of rules demanding another layer of bureaucratic documentation.
In 2002 the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) was introduced in England and Wales to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults from the vile beasts that would manipulate themselves into positions where they would pray on them. In principle it is a good idea, as it provides some resource for schools and relevant organisations to vet people who have a criminal past, before hiring them to take up a position that they may exploit for illicit purposes. There was already the Department for Education and Skills’ List 99, which is a confidential register of all people convicted or suspected of child abuse, violent crimes or drug offences. However, the standard CRB system of checks also covers cautions and warnings, and even convictions that may have expired. An ‘Enhanced Disclosure’ goes further and includes any other information held on file that may be relevant, such as investigations that have not led to a criminal record, like nine charges of rape and underage sex in the space of four years for instance (read on).
Naturally there were teething troubles when the CRB was first introduced and tragically, whilst these teething troubles were being ironed out, school caretaker Ian Huntley murdered two school children, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.
It’s probably impossible to have an airtight vetting system without grossly abusing individual’s privacy and human rights, but over the space of four years, Ian Huntley had nine charges of rape and underage sex against his name before he was employed by a school as a caretaker. This information was documented and recorded by social workers and police forces, but despite happening at a time when computer databases and ICT were becoming commonplace, none of these organisations thought that it might be useful to share this information with each other for safeguarding purposes. Incidentally, it’s interesting that it’s noted that one of the main reasons the CRB was introduced was to protect organisations from litigation, which makes you question the moral focus of our lawmakers – but that’s another posting.
There’s a naively simplistic level of thinking amongst certain people in our society; those ‘normal’, law abiding, taxpaying, un-questioning, rule-following members of society, civil service and the public sector. These types of people are often guilty of placing people in boxes and using those boxes as building blocks of rationality. These people can’t think outside of the box and follow blindly according to instructions. These people wouldn’t have sat in the CRB meeting and raised their hand to say ‘There’s tons of literature proving that many dangerous and pathological criminals – particular sex offenders – are intelligent and manipulative and may very well have a history of charges and allegations that have not as yet led to convictions. Do you think we should have something in place to check for that type of thing?’ These people see things in black and white and think that it’s only people who have been proved to have broken the law – no matter what that law was – are wrongdoers and are dirty and tainted forever, unable to ever hold any significant position in society. These people can’t see the wood for the pile of trees that have been chopped down to make the paper by which they are instructed, informed and subsequently base the blueprint of their thinking and rationale on. These people have no capacity for abstract reasoning. They’re like automated drones who blindly follow their programmed procedure without employing common sense or initiative.
I have nothing against the CRB, that’s not what this posting is about. I think CRB checks are a good idea and very necessary, but sadly, shit happens that you are never going to be able to prevent. A CRB check isn’t going to tell you a great deal about a person who is evading the law. A CRB check is not going to provide any protection against creepy, celebrity, paedophiles like Jimmy Savile getting away with it, because a CRB check can’t highlight people of low, moral character working in showbiz who are prepared to turn a blind eye to child abuse rather than jeopardise their careers. What a CRB check does is cast a wide net over anybody who has any criminal record and judge them based off that record. What a CRB check does is provide a cursory snapshot of that criminal record without going into any character detail.
The problem is, when you apply for a CRB check, what comes back is an indiscriminate private record of your past that doesn’t take into account whether the information is really necessary for disclosure. Any crime that you have committed, no matter how venal or embarrassing, is now revealed to some clerical worker in your office. So if you got caught shoplifting some knickers from Woolworths when you were 18, then 23 year old Garry, the admin support worker from HR, probably knows about it and had a good laugh at your expense with his friends at the weekend when they were sniffing lines of coke off his new IKEA table during the house warming party he had to celebrate the new mortgage he’s just anchored himself with on an overpriced plasterboard apartment in the city centre that he bought for a snip at £149k. You’re not a pederast or an armed robber or a drug smuggler or a DJ from the 70’s, but since you sign kids in at the reception at the community centre that Garry also works at, it is imperative that your private life of 20 years ago becomes the public property of Garry’s anecdotal work whinges at the weekend. You may have thought that Garry smiled at you in that way because he fancied you, and maybe you even had the odd fantasy of having an affair with the young man from HR; but really he’s smirking at the idea that you once stuffed a 3-pack of knickers down your blouse and tried to do a runner from Woolly’s back in 1983, and he’s wondering whether they were the Bridget Jones type that reach up above the navel – and if you still wear them.
I work with young people and vulnerable adults and it is necessary for me to have an enhanced disclosure. CRB checks are at the discretion of your employer, so whilst some say they need to be updated every 3 years and some say 5, my employer has decided that he wants it updated every year. I understand this to a certain degree, as it would be very easy for me to commit GBH at the weekend, go through the whole procedure of court, conviction and suspended sentence over the course of the subsequent year without my employer being any the wiser. But the bizarre thing is the verification of who I am, that really only needs to be done the once, surely? It’s not so much me having to re-verify who I am that is the strange thing, the office manager has to verify who our boss is. So that means that the employee of our employer has to officially verify that the person that employed her and pays her wages – the person for whom she has to go and see to have cheques countersigned and authorised and verify any payment of goods – now has to have him bring in documentation to prove that he really is who he is for the purposes of this CRB check. This is surely an unnecessary detail!?
Our office manager is one of these people who lives life by instructions and does nothing outside of the conventional rules. She is nice, inoffensive, but very dull. She would never do anything to harm you or anyone else, but I couldn’t see her ever doing anything extraordinary in your defence either. I’ve been sat alone in the office with our office manager for whole days at a time and forgotten she was even there. I often forget she exists. Sometimes I walk into work and when I see her it startles me because I am reminded that she does actually exist. When I received an email off her requesting the relevant documentation required to prove my identity in order to corroborate my CRB application, I asked her if she really needed me to dig out my passport [again] and a recent utility bill [again] and council tax bill [again] to confirm that I was indeed the same work colleague that had been sat across the room from her in the office we have worked in together over the last year, and that I wasn’t someone who had raped and molested children whilst on the run from drug smuggling and multiple murder charges, who had kidnapped the real me and locked him in a room whilst I had corrective surgery on my face and vocal chords like Nicholas Cage in ‘Face Off’ during a period that the real me was off sick or on holiday, in order for me to imitate the real me so that I could sneak into the workplace of the real me and gain access to children so that I could continue my evil paedophile ways?
She said; “Yes”.
She said if she didn’t she could get arrested (I’m really not joking about this bit). So I asked her – “Do you really think the Judge would be able to keep the jury from laughing long enough to actually continue with the resulting court proceedings from your heinous deception?” – but she didn’t want to play my hypothetical game anymore.
The ridiculous thing about verification of identity is that the very people whom you are giving your personal details to aren’t exactly carefully vetted Secret Service Operatives themselves. I was on holiday in Portugal one summer and I had a massive fallout with my then girlfriend, so I decided to go missing for a few hours to get drunk. Whilst I was out drinking I met this character who said he was in the fraud business. He told he ran a team of thieves who stole credit cards off holiday makers and used them to buy goods, which they then sold on to locals who lived and worked in resorts around the Mediterranean islands. He was a generous guy who paid for my drinks all night, and every half hour or so would send me to the toilet with a bag of white powder to snort up my nose.
As the night wore on, this Costa Del Criminal told me funny story after funny story and I found him to be quite a decent bloke. He told me that he didn’t really feel any moral qualms about what he did (he never use the word ‘qualms’ of course, he was a crook) because he was only robbing off the banks, who were robbing bastards anyway (he had a good point there). He said that on the last night of using a card, he would take his team to a brothel and splash out on a night of filth and debauchery. This made sure the banks had to pay out to the family who had their card stolen. I mean, there’s no way any court in the land would believe that Valerie and Allan Stannage took their three kids on holiday to Alcudia and orchestrated the fraud themselves, before indulging in the pleasures of prostitution at ‘El Jefe’s’. He also left me with this little trade secret before I disappeared into drunken unconsciousness and he disappeared into the night; he told me a common way for fraudsters to get private information, was to employ people to get jobs in call centres taking personal data from customers; “Always get the name of the little fucker taking your details mate. Make sure they know that you know who it was who took that call. They get dozens of calls everyday and loads of info, so the ones that are risky they’re not gonna use.” I told you he was a nice bloke.
I know this posting has somewhat rambled on and in some way lost its thematic through-line. However, I hope I’ve managed to impart some wit and wisdom. As much as it’s important for valid identification and safeguarding measures in certain professions, there should also be some safety measures for us. There should also be the application of some common sense. Am I a real person or merely the sum of my documents? And who are these people collecting all my personal information? And why is it that despite me only giving my landline number to close friends and family members, a man named Keith with a strong Indian dialect can call me at home from a call centre in Mumbai to offer me free representation to claim damages back for a car accident I never had in the last three years – and call me by my first and last name!? We all to easily give too much of our personal data to random strangers every day, it’s no surprise that identity theft and fraud is so prolific. It’s only a matter of time before a defence team gets someone off because the prosecution are unable to locate a recent bank or utility bill and relevant picture ID from List B to confirm he was actually the person whom the killers DNA belonged to. Stranger things have happened!
Update 29th January 2013: Criminal record checks system breaches human rights, court rules. Wow, sometimes common sense does prevail – I wonder if the judge read my blog?