Toddlers and centenarians placed on council 'threat' lists
Monday 12 August 2013
Toddlers and centenarians are among the thousands of people deemed “threatening” enough to have their personal details stored on secret council databases, an investigation has found.
Authorities are keeping files alerting staff to potential risks their clients may pose, according to details obtained by the Press Association.
So-called "cautionary contacts lists" (CCL) include notes between colleagues warning about people who present a "risk" - including those threatening physical or sexual aggression, residents with dangerous dogs, and some with criminal records.
But they also feature a seven-year-old girl highlighted for "verbal abuse", a 91-year-old man previously demonstrating threatening behaviour, and a man who "pulls faces", as well as records on several others deemed a risk - though not yet old enough to attend school. They are among scores of Britons at either end of the age spectrum included on council lists.
It comes after a barber in Cornwall said he was placed on his council's CCL for using a megaphone to warn motorists of traffic wardens.
Andy Blackwell, from Liskeard, was issued with a letter from his local authority in January after his alerts were said to have been a threat to traffic wardens' "health and safety". Cornwall Council said the CCL was "an internal system which aims to protect council staff from potentially harmful situations".
In some instances, files have been kept for decades - occassionally dating back to when clients were small children. Others are kept without notifying clients about their inclusion on the list.
A Local Government Association spokesman said: "Recording instances where staff have been subject to unacceptable behaviour - including physical assaults, threats of violence, intimidation with dangerous dogs and even inappropriate sexual behaviour - is an important part of ensuring our employees can go about their daily work without fear or harassment and the public is protected when we are aware of a risk.
"However, councils recognise there needs to be a common-sense approach to how they make staff aware of any perceived risks and any information will be routinely reviewed to ensure it is proportionate."
Councils were asked to provide details of their internal systems or registers for the past two and a half years. This included council house tenants, social services customers and other members of the public who had previously come into contact with officials.
Just over half of the 150 authorities contacted by the Press Association said they kept a CCL or similar, while three - Durham, Surrey and Tower Hamlets - refused to disclose the information.
In North East Lincolnshire, the council has more than 150 records for people - including those barely a month old. Children aged 10, eight and five and three babies aged less than six months were all added due to reasons including a "risk of violence" or "physical aggression", according to the council's statistics, while a nine-year-old was included on the list due to previously being "violent to staff".
Some of the risks presented to staff are disclosed in Portsmouth Council's hazard files, in which one staff member was "pricked by a (drugs) needle" when attending a property in Havant, while staff have also been advised against visiting one client while working alone due to him "regularly answering the door with no clothes on".
In another note kept on file, staff were warned about a man who had previously become so aggressive that he threatened to burn down council offices. Police were later informed and the man volunteered a sword to them, which he kept at his home.
In York, more than 300 people featured on its register - including a 14-year-old who "made verbal threats over the phone that he intends to kill anyone who he comes into conflict with", as well as a man in his mid-50s who "can pull faces that appear aggressive" when he has been drinking.
Others have armed themselves with weapons, including a machete, while the presence of dangerous dogs have also caused concerns for some council staff.
Kirklees's list includes a 91-year-old and an 82-year-old who have both demonstrated "threatening behaviour and verbal threats" - neither were notified of their inclusion on the list, the authority confirmed. Others were included for making "serious unfounded allegations".
Data from Barking and Dagenham Council showed how children aged one, four, seven and nine have been flagged on its database where "the tenant is very abusive", while a 90-year-old is described as potentially "violent and aggressive". A council spokesman later said its own records relating to children were "errors", as the system only records details on adults.
He said: "Warning notes exist so we can protect frontline staff by providing a record to alert them to potential dangers when visiting a property. People mentioned on the list have not necessarily been notified. However, housing services is currently reviewing the way we deal with warning notes with a view to making this process more transparent."
Essex Council said that, while it did not hold a CCL, it did keep a record of incidents. Information disclosed by the authority shows that two 93-year-olds have markers for "consistently verbally threatening" and for being "violent to staff or other professionals", while a 99-year-old is said to have also been violent.
The authority also has markers on more than 20 children - including nine under-fives - for being "violent to staff or other professionals". It said: "We have recognised a need for a register as part of our health and safety strategy, and will be developing a suitably robust and compliant process in the coming years."
Most councils said it was policy to notify people of their inclusion on the CCL, with the option of appealing over the decision. Others, however, said doing so could further ignite tensions between the two parties.
Many also said they reviewed their databases regularly, although some disclosed examples of clients being left on file for decades.
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