A CRB check is now declared essential before you hire a newspaper boy; it is seen as the cure all for every possible risk of child abuse. So ferocious are the checks, so thorough, that even a nurse who accepted a caution, (but was not charged), for leaving her own child unattended whilst she dashed to the shops, finds herself unable to obtain employment lest a child should wander within her ambit.
There has been the odd dissenting voice reminding us that Ian Huntley would have received a ‘clean’ CRB check – he had no previous convictions or cautions, but in general the media commentators are all agreed that the CRB checks are a ‘good thing’ and thoroughly protect children to the extent that parents need barely give the matter any thought.
Are they that through? I received an alarming e-mail a while back, from a correspondent I shall call ‘Adam’ – which may give you pause for thought.
Adam told me in the first few sentences of his e-mail that he had suffered a complete mental breakdown and was receiving intensive psychiatric treatment to this day. One of the symptoms of his breakdown was a complete disassociation and break from reality – a fantasist in short. For that reason alone it has taken me some time to check out his story. Regrettably for the ‘system’ – it does check out.
He is a highly intelligent man, more than capable of applying his intellect to the complex task of weaving an effective web of lies and engaging in the task of manipulation. Some of that manipulation took the form of criminal offences for which he was sentenced and incarcerated – a psychiatrists report at the time said that he showed ‘no empathy’ for his victims. A condition which is often described as psychopathic.
Various media organisations had exposed his many fantasies, and – as he was fully entitled to do so – he changed his name by deed poll on leaving prison.
His high intelligence and undoubted expertise in the world of computers led to him being offered a very senior position of trust within the computer analytic sector. He was extensively interviewed seven times by the company concerned and asked to submit himself for CRB checking. He did. Under his new name.
Having received an offer of employment from them, I disclosed to them that I had had issues in regards to my mental health previously and that I had “been away” during this period. In my interviews with them I also made reference to “dark periods” and having had a breakdown.
Mea culpa, I did not state “I have an unspent conviction”. Crucially, in the CRB disclosure to be completed, in the rush to complete the form, I did not specify my having a previous name but I did state that I had a previous conviction and gave all of the details necessary for a match (e.g., I’m at the same address, same date of birth and same mother’s maiden name).
So, the civil servants charged with carrying out these checks was faced with a man called ‘Adam Blogs’, who had answered ‘No’ to the question of previous convictions, but who had then gone on to list that previous conviction – which, along with his date of birth, mother’s maiden name and current address would have precisely matched the profile of ‘Joe Blogs’, my correspondents previous name…..
Can you guess what happened next? Yep, having seen the answer ‘No previous convictions’ and (presumably) (hopefully) having checked whether ‘Adam Blogs’ had any previous convictions, they returned a clean bill of health to the Company employing him!
He continued in that position of trust – and could well have been working with vulnerable children for all the CRB people knew, though I will stress here that there has been absolutely no suggestion that Adam has ever been involved in any activity which would have posed the slightest risk to children – until such time as an ‘aggrieved old friend’ contacted the company to ask whether they were aware of Adam’s past – they weren’t, they fired him on the spot.
In February 2011, genuinely surprised that CRB had missed an obvious opportunity to disclose a previous conviction, I contacted CRB about this to ask if I might visit them in Liverpool to describe my experience and to suggest a series of algorithms which would alleviate the issue. Whilst I did not specify this in my email as a good citizen I am prepared to do the work at significantly lower cost than I would charge a private sector body.
A couple of hours after I sent my email to their CEO, Steve Long, I received a reply reminding me that it was an ‘offence to not have disclosed my previous name’ and failing to deal with the substance of my email to them.
I wish Adam well in the future, he is not the first person to have suffered a prolonged bout of mental illness and done some remarkably stupid things whilst in the grip of that illness, however, if the CRB check relies on those being checked pointing out in letters four foot high that there may well be questions regarding their suitability for employment – such as a long history of criminal fantasies and manipulation – then it is of even less value than those of us who view it with suspicion already thought.