School head admits failing to vet Huntley

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The headmaster of the Soham school where Ian Huntley was given a job as a caretaker admitted yesterday that he failed to check any of the murderer's references.

The headmaster of the Soham school where Ian Huntley was given a job as a caretaker admitted yesterday that he failed to check any of the murderer's references.

Howard Gilbert, principal at Soham Village College, admitted breaching government regulations in his failure to follow up references. They were checked only after Huntley's arrest for the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Over the past two weeks at the Bichard inquiry into how Huntley was cleared for the job, Cambridgeshire Police admitted it "probably" failed to send a request for information about his background to police in Humberside where he previously lived. Humberside Police admitted it deleted records of sex allegations against Huntley and then made a "foolish" excuse that it had done so to comply with data protection laws.

Yesterday, the inquiry was told the company responsible for co-ordinating checks on staff was unable to verify certain details of Huntley's application, such as former addresses.

Huntley was employed by the school in November 2001, after vetting checks by Cambridgeshire Police gave him the all-clear. Ten months later, he murdered the schoolgirls, who attended St Andrew's primary school, also in Soham.

Yesterday, Mr Gilbert told the inquiry how Huntley had appeared "thoughtful and mature" during the interview for the caretaker position and had brought along references from four previous employers.

The references which Huntley submitted, most of which were undated, described him as "reliable, honest and trustworthy". In his application form, Huntley had also written: "My fiancée and myself have decided to relocate to an area which offers a better quality of life for us to start a family and settle.

"I am at an age where I find myself thinking deeply about my career and what I really want to do." He added: "I feel I have a lot to offer the college in terms of supervisory and personal experiences."

Last December, Mr Gilbert said that the school had done "everything we had to do" during the application procedure.

Yesterday, he acknowledged that his failure to check references was in breach of government guidelines which state that it was "not in good practice" to accept them at face value.

He said: "At the end of the day, they should have been called in. A letter should have been sent to confirm the references were genuine and authentic." Mr Gilbert added reliance on open references was exceptional and the practice had since been discontinued.

The inquiry was also told the company responsible for co-ordinating checks on staff for numerous schools in Cambridgeshire did not verify certain details, including former addresses or possible aliases.

Instead, the company relied to an extent on the "honesty of the applicant", according to Maureen Cooper, the director of Educational Personnel Management Ltd (EPM), which requested police checks on behalf of the college.

A police check form filled out by the applicants required them to list any addresses at which they had resided in the previous five years. She said only the details within this period were the subject to the check and the company could not verify if they were accurate. The flaw still remained in place in similar organisations around the country, including the national Criminal Records Bureau, according to Mrs Cooper. "It is not possible to establish whether an applicant has lived at that address for a period of time they say they have," she said.

Her comments prompted the inquiry chairman Sir Michael Bichard to make his only intervention of the day, with the words: "You are signing something that is not true?"

The hearing continues.

Catalogue of blunders

¿ Phil Watters, a social worker, failed to link claims of underage sex against Huntley

¿ A report suggesting Huntley could be a "serial sex attacker" was deleted from police records in July 2000

¿ David Westwood, Chief Constable of Humberside, "wrongly" claimed records were deleted due to the Data Protection Act

¿ Tom Lloyd, Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Police, admitted that the vetting procedure was flawed

¿ Cambridgeshire Police "probably" never requested a vetting check into Huntley

¿ Stephen Barnes, of Cambridgeshire Police, entered Huntley's date of birth incorrectly on the child access database

¿ Jacqueline Giddings, a police national computer operator, failed to check the surname Huntley, only searching for his alias Nixon

¿ Humberside Police failed to update police national computer records to include Huntley's alias surname of Nixon. As a result, the response to a check in December 2001 would have been "no trace"