Child database: danger of malicious reporting

Child protection register raises fears that individuals could be unfairly slandered

Members of the public are to be given the power to report anyone they suspect of posing a danger to children, under a new Government scheme.

People who suspect an individual of being unsuitable to work or volunteer with children will be able to refer them to the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) through a form on its website. After receiving an allegation from a member of the public, the ISA will examine the available evidence and contact the person concerned to allow them to mount a defence.

Depending on the seriousness of the allegations, they could be asked to make a written statement, be interviewed over the phone or talk face-to-face to an ISA representative.

The ISA is responsible for managing the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS), which launches in October and is intended to protect children from paedophiles. By November next year, it will be mandatory for everyone who works with children to be registered. Within five years it will hold the details of an estimated 11.3 million people.

A Home Office spokesman said that as the scheme had not yet been launched, it was difficult to say exactly how the interview process would operate, but that each allegation would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

He added that if the safeguarding authority decided the allegations were unfounded, the accused person's information would be discarded.

Anna Fairclough of the human rights group Liberty said that any accusations made by individuals rather than official bodies should be "treated with circumspection" by the ISA. "In principle there's probably nothing wrong with the ISA gathering information from all sorts of sources," she said, "but obviously if an allegation is made by a member of the public, the chances of it being malicious is perhaps higher."

She thought it "unlikely" that the ISA would discard the details of the wrongly accused, but that there was no problem with this as long as the information was not passed on.

Public anger over the Vetting and Barring Scheme has mounted since The Independent disclosed on Thursday that a group of respected British children's authors and illustrators intended to stop visiting schools in protest. Philip Pullman, Anne Fine, Anthony Horowitz, Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake all said they would refuse to have their names on the database, which carries a £64 registration fee.

However, the chief executive of children's charity Barnardo's, Martin Narey, defended the scheme.

"Before I joined Barnardo's I ran the prison service, so I know a little bit about sex offenders and the unique way they plan their crimes and groom children," he said. "What they might do while under supervision in a school is not the point – their appearance in the school gives them legitimacy, and the next time they might see a child on their own it's in the park or outside the school gates, by which time they're a trusted adult."