Soham probe chief warns over recommendations

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Introduction of the two main recommendations of the inquiry into the Soham murders is "by no means guaranteed", it emerged today.

The chairman of the inquiry into how child killer Ian Huntley slipped through the police's intelligence net said he still had concerns about progress.

Sir Michael Bichard generally welcomed the Government's progress but warned: "A very great deal remains to be done before we can claim success."

In a report to Home Secretary Charles Clarke, he said: "The successful delivery of the two most important recommendations - the national IT intelligence system and the barring system for those working with children - is by no means guaranteed."

He urged Mr Clarke to keep a close eye on the projects to keep them on track.

Sir Michael said it was a "cause for concern" that the preparations for a National Police IT Intelligence System had slipped back.

The Home Office was due to consider an outline business case this month but that has now been put off until September, he said.

"The Home Office are clear that, although the business case has slipped from March to September, that will not affect the delivery of the project in 2007," said Sir Michael.

"Obviously I have to be concerned that it has slipped.

"It's slipped because a new programme director has been put in place but it should not affect the ultimate delivery."

He also expressed concern about the way police in England and Wales were inputting data on to the Police National Computer about offenders, particularly details of arrests and summonses.

"This has not improved significantly or in some respects at all," said the chairman.

He added that in July it was taking forces an average of nine days to enter arrest or summons data but it was now taking 10 days.

The proportion of cases entered within 24 hours had, however, risen from 21% to 24%, he noted.

"This is not major improvements. It is disappointing that after all this time greater progress has not been made."

Another area of concern was the proposed new scheme to bar unsuitable people from working with children, said Sir Michael's 20-page final report on the Government's progress.

He told a central London press conference: "The resources for this have not yet been allocated by the Government.

"Legislation will need to be taken through Parliament and the scheme will need to be fine-tuned to ensure that it is easily accessed by those employing workers - including parents recruiting an out-of-school tutor, for example.

"I'm pleased with the progress that has been made to date but there is a great deal more to do."

Sir Michael also said Prime Minister Tony Blair should use the UK's presidency of the EU to make progress on a scheme for international exchange of information on people disqualified from working with children.

"The UK's presidency later this year provides a real opportunity to progress this and I hope that this opportunity is taken," he said.

He concluded: "We are on the verge of having in the UK a coherent set of protection measures unrivalled anywhere, but if the National Intelligence System and the barring scheme are not in place by 2007 we shall have fallen short."

He said the Home Secretary should commit to publishing progress reviews in September and next March, and added that Mr Clarke had accepted that suggestion.

The Bichard Inquiry was set up after Huntley was convicted of murdering 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, and presented 31 recommendations in its original report last June.

Today, Sir Michael suggested that forces which failed to improve their performance on inputting the data to the Police National Computer should be "named and shamed".

He went on: "These are administrative, bureaucratic procedures but they are really, really important.

"I would be concerned if priority had not been given to this area.

"I think it's important that individual forces are accountable for performance."

The Home Secretary said: "I am pleased that Sir Michael has recognised that 'significant progress' has been made.

"Sir Michael has made clear that he is impressed by the 'positive and energetic' response to his report.

"However, we are not complacent and I welcome Sir Michael's further recommendations which are aimed at ensuring the effective implementation of his inquiry's findings.

"I am happy to accept all of these in principle and I also accept his recommendation for further progress reports to Parliament and to the public in six and 12 months' time."

He went on: "The Government is firmly committed to the protection of children and vulnerable adults in our society.

"As we said last year, we owe it to the parents of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells to make substantial progress as rapidly as possible to ensure that the mistakes highlighted in the Bichard Report are not repeated.

"That is what we shall continue driving through."

Association of Chief Police Officers president Chris Fox said: "The police service welcomes the positive comments made by Sir Michael Bichard recognising the significant progress made over the past nine months.

"A huge amount of work has been put into developing the I-PLX system, which represents a major step in addressing some of the issues that were raised by Sir Michael Bichard in his report.

"With this system in place, the disclosure process will be far more rigorous and police disclosure units will be able to make better-informed decisions in assisting employers in decisions to recruit individuals."

He added: "The complexity of installing computer support to access police databases nationally is challenging.

"The Impact programme will deliver this facility in coming years so further increasing the protection for vulnerable people in our society."

The Bichard Inquiry was set up to investigate how Huntley landed a job as a school caretaker despite a string of sex allegations against him.

It was while working at Soham Village College in August 2002 that he murdered 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Sir Michael's scathing report, published last June, unearthed "deeply shocking" errors across all organisations that had contact with Huntley.

It only emerged after his conviction that he had been at the centre of four alleged rapes, an indecent assault and four alleged incidents of underage sex while in Grimsby during the 1990s.

In January ministers revealed it would cost more than £185 million to implement reforms triggered by the inquiry.

The introduction of the national police IT system will account for the bulk of the costs, at £164.5 million over four years.