Royal Mail staff to be vetted in fight to prevent postal theft

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The Independent Online

All new recruits joining Royal Mail will be vetted for past criminal convictions as part of a crackdown on postal theft, the organisation said yesterday.

All new recruits joining Royal Mail will be vetted for past criminal convictions as part of a crackdown on postal theft, the organisation said yesterday.

The move follows a Channel Four Dispatches programme earlier this year which highlighted security breaches within Royal Mail and showed staff allegedly stealing from the post and dumping letters.

At the same time, new figures released by the organisation showed that the number of letters lost in the post last year rose by 11 per cent to 16 million. Royal Mail blamed nearly all of the increase on last autumn's strikes and said only one million letters were lost last year as a result of theft.

The new vetting procedures will apply equally to all casual staff taken on by Royal Mail at busy times of the year such as Christmas. The organisation is also attempting to create a high-calibre "pool" of temporary employees by issuing them with passport-style ID cards which contain details of where and when they have worked for Royal Mail in the past.

Royal Mail staff who routinely handle cash as part of their daily routine have long been vetted but data protection rules have prevented ordinary postmen and women been subjected to the same procedure. The Government has now agreed to allow this to happen. Adam Crozier, chief executive of Royal Mail said the new vetting arrangements would add "an important new layer of security" to its operations and increase customer confidence.

Unions and consumer groups also welcomed the move. The independent industry regulator Postwatch said: "The vast majority of postmen and women are trustworthy and conscientious but it only takes a few incidents for customer trust to be shaken. It is vital that Royal Mail does all it can to prevent the criminal element from infiltrating its workforce. Vetting of casual staff, along with a renewed focus on security should help."

A spokesman for Royal Mail's main union, the Communication Workers Union, also backed the move. "If people are not vetted properly, it can create problems and that is not good for the business or for its employees."

Mr Crozier said that the 16 million letters which went missing last year represented just 0.08 per cent of the 21 billion items Royal Mail handled. Half of the 16 million were delivered to the wrong address and a further 2 million were declared lost because they took more than 15 days to arrive. In 2002-03, there were 14.4 million lost letters.

Royal Mail said that 80 per cent of the letters stolen from Royal Mail last year were the result of criminals targeting mail vans or postmen and women out on their rounds. A total of 261 postmen and women were attacked whilst delivering the mail last year.

Mr Crozier said Royal Mail was still seeking an apology from Channel 4 over allegations in the Dispatches programme that staff had stolen credit cards from the post. He said that the cards had been sent by a courier firm and not Royal Mail.