Authors welcome halting of paedophile database

Philip Pullman, the children's author, has accused the Labour government of using the murders of two Soham schoolgirls in 2002 as a "scare story" to persuade the public that it was necessary to create a database of adults who work with minors.

Speaking to The Independent yesterday, Pullman said the vetting and barring scheme – which was developed in response to the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by the caretaker Ian Huntley – was a direct result of the former government's desperation to calm public hysteria whipped up by red-top newspapers.

"It was really set up in order to appease the tabloid mentality," the author said. "A sensible government hounded by the press over the vetting and barring scheme would have had the sense and the guts to say that it had nothing to do with the Soham case. Using the Soham case... as an excuse for the scheme was simple dishonesty."

Yesterday, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced the database – which would have held the personal details of more than nine million people who worked with children and vulnerable adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – had been halted. She said it was time to return to a more "common sense" approach which did not risk alienating people doing voluntary work. A review will now allow the scheme to be "fundamentally remodelled".

Public concern over the proposals was first raised last year, when The Independent revealed that a group of respected British children's authors and illustrators – including Pullman – intended to stop visiting schools in protest at having to register with the scheme.

"There were all sorts of groups of people out there who were deeply concerned about this," Mrs May told the BBC's Today programme. "It was a draconian measure when it was introduced; that's why we have halted the process.

"You were assumed to be guilty, in a sense, until you were proven innocent and told you were able to work with children. By scaling it back we will be able to introduce a greater element of common sense. What we have got to do is actually trust people again."

The registration process, which was due to begin on a voluntary basis next month before becoming mandatory in November, will now be put on hold. Under the scheme, those working with children without being vetted could have faced a £5,000 fine, while employers could have been prosecuted.

Among the authors who originally objected to the scheme was Anthony Horowitz, who wrote the popular Alex Rider series of spy novels. He told The Independent yesterday: "From the very start, the vetting and barring scheme was useless, intrusive and expensive – this seemed to be obvious to everyone except the Government. But the greater cost was the way that all adult-child relationships were being poisoned, the way mistrust and suspicion were becoming the norm."

Author and former children's laureate Anne Fine also told The Independent she welcomed the halting of the scheme. "I am delighted that the vetting and barring system has gone down the drain. The problems that it raised far outweighed any perceived increase in 'safety' for our children. Any system that required a further nine million citizens to be vetted in this way clearly needed rethinking."

An independent review of the scheme, which cost £84m to set up, was ordered last year following complaints that volunteers were being discouraged.

The Independent Safeguarding Authority, created to oversee the vetting process, will continue to make decisions about barring inappropriate people. Procedures for Criminal Records Bureau checks also remain in place.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?