New Deal loophole lets in criminals

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is reviewing the way it vets applicants for the New Deal work programme after it emerged that paedophiles were being offered work with children.

A Home Office-led working party will look at ways of closing the loophole before irreparable damage is done to the Government's flagship scheme for combating youth unemployment.

Probation officers have discovered that at least two convicted sex offenders were allocated placements which involved them working directly with children.

In one case, a 20-year-old man from the Home Counties was offered a maintenance post in a nursery, despite having previous convictions for the sexual abuse of young children. He was only prevented from taking up the position when police and probation staff discovered by chance what had happened and blocked the move.

In South Wales, New Deal staff allowed a 22-year-old sex offender to apply for a job with children, even after he told them he had a conviction for a schedule one offence. He later joked to his probation officer that the staff did not seem to understand the meaning of the term, which refers to sex offences under the 1991 Criminal Justice Act.

The man, who is listed on the national paedophile register, recently served an 18-month sentence after indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl outside a cafe and trying to drag her onto wasteland.

Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo), said he was convinced that other sex offenders had already been given placements with children because of the lack of security checks in the scheme.

Probation staff have been told that data-protection legislation prevents New Deal staff being given details of previous convictions. The onus is on employers to ask but many, especially voluntary organisations, assume that the government agency has carried out the necessary checks.

Mr Fletcher said: "There is a serious flaw in the New Deal arrangements which could lead to a tragedy. We must not shut down all employment opportunities for offenders but there needs to be a change in the law so that information is made available if sex offenders are being put in touch with children."

The New Deal was introduced earlier this year to help young people aged between 18 and 24 who have been unemployed for six months. It has already placed 70,000 people in paid or voluntary employment or in full-time education.

A spokesman for the Employment Service, the government agency which runs the scheme, said last night: "We are working with the Home Office and the Probation Service to explore any practical steps we can take to ensure that the Employment Service does not submit unsuitable people to jobs that involve working with children."

He said that investigations would begin into the two cases identified by Napo. "We are very concerned about the cases raised... which we will investigate thoroughly and on which we will take urgent action," he said.

The Department for Education and Employment has relayed its concerns over the New Deal loophole to the Home Office-led working party, which is due to report to Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, by the end of the month. The working party will recommend a series of initiatives to prevent unsuitable people working with children, including greater sharing of information by government agencies and making it a criminal offence for sex offenders to seek work with children.

There are rigorous checks surrounding posts in children's homes and other work with children in the public sector. Applicants are required to declare all personal details, including previous convictions, on a form which is sent to the police for verification.

However, there are serious concerns that there are a multitude of other organisations which work with children and young people on a voluntary basis where there are no legal requirements for checks on the previous convictions of personnel.