By Stephen Wright
Seven innocent people a day are falsely branded criminals because of bungled records checks.
They are wrongly accused of being paedophiles, thugs, fraudsters or drug addicts, potentially ruining their reputations and their careers.
In many cases, misleading information has been disclosed to schools, hospitals, nurseries or charities.
Over the past six years, the Criminal Records Bureau has been forced to admit making mistakes in almost 15,000 cases. It is now paying compensation at a rate of £290,000 a year.
Last night campaigners said the scale of the errors was typical of the ‘lackadaisical’ approach ministers have to personal data.
They warned that problems will worsen when the controversial Independent Safeguarding Authority begins vetting up to nine million people who come into contact with children, including parents who want to help out at schools, sports clubs or youth groups.
The scale of the controversy emerged yesterday following a Freedom of Information request to the CRB. This revealed that during the financial year 2008/09, 2,522 disputes handled by the agency were upheld.
These related to claims that the information passed on by the CRB was either inaccurate or intended for someone else.
The CRB, an arm of the Home Office, also admitted paying £290,124 during 2008/09 in ‘apology payments’. Over the previous five years, more than 12,000 disputed cases were upheld.
Those wrongly accused by the CRB have to go through a time-consuming and sometimes costly appeals process to remove incorrect data held on them.
Some of the blunders are due to errors made by staff at the CRB but others are caused by law enforcement agencies such as the police releasing details that have been recorded inaccurately.
Some victims of the vetting errors will never even know that a mistake has been made. A job applicant may be turned down without being aware that the employer’s rejection was based on an inaccurate CRB check.
The CRB said it issued 3,855,881 ‘certificates’ in 2008/09. Its checks provide access to a range of information taken from the Police National Computer, including convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings.
It was set up in 2002 to check people working with youngsters for criminal convictions, cautions and reprimands, but it came under close scrutiny following the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham in 2002 by Ian Huntley.
This has led to the Independent Safeguarding Authority being set up to run a Vetting and Barring Scheme for adults who have contact with children. It is being phased in across England, Wales and Northern Ireland and will be compulsory from November.
A spokesman for the CRB said: ‘The CRB does not pay compensation, but makes ex-gratia payments to reinforce the sincerity of an apology.’
THEY SAID I WAS AN ADDICT
A mother who applied to help out at her children’s school was wrongly branded a violent junkie by a bungled CRB check.
Amanda Hodgson applied for the checks so she could help at break times at the school where her children were pupils.
Weeks later she was horrified to receive a letter from the CRB claiming she was a recovering heroin addict who had assaulted police officers.
‘When I first read the letter, I didn’t fully understand,’ said Mrs Hodgson, 36.
‘I couldn’t work out why I’d been sent all this information. I was horrified when I realised. I have done nothing wrong.’
The law-abiding mother of two had applied for the post of welfare assistant at the school after staff said she would be perfect for the job. But the Criminal Records Bureau sent her the history of a violent drug addict with the same name and date of birth.
They then told Mrs Hodgson, of Preston, Lancashire, it was up to her to prove her innocence.
The CRB investigated but said they could not be sure she was not the person named in the report.
Mrs Hodgson produced documents to show that she had only taken the surname of Hodgson after she married in 1993, four years after the first offences she was accused of had been committed.
But she was told that even this was not sufficient to prove her innocence.
Mrs Hodgson’s fingerprints had to be checked against every unsolved crime in Britain to clear her name.
Even then it was weeks before she was cleared for the voluntary work at the school.
SAME ERROR THREE TIMES
An IT teacher was wrongly branded a criminal three times by the CRB.
Richard Adams, a 27-year-old computer specialist, had successfully applied for the job of computer teacher at a centre for children with behavioural problems.
But the school turned him down after the CRB claimed he had been cautioned in 1999 for common assault and had received a conditional discharge for forging a prescription.
Mr Adams was cleared after the CRB admitted they had mistaken him for an offender with a similar name and date of birth.
But when he applied to work at Lincoln Christ’s Hospital school in 2004, the CRB sent them the same details, claiming he was a forger and a thug.
And the agency repeated its mistake a third time in 2006 when Mr Adams was offered a £20,000 a year job as an IT instructor at Aveland High School, in Lincoln.
The state is all powerful, the state is all knowing *