Two in five face job vetting in drive to detect offenders

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The Independent Online

More than 40 per cent of Britain's adults are to be vetted in a government drive to prevent dangerous offenders taking jobs in all areas of society.

More than 40 per cent of Britain's adults are to be vetted in a government drive to prevent dangerous offenders taking jobs in all areas of society.

The new Criminal Records Bureau predicts that within three years it will be making more than 11 million checks on past offenders, out of a working-age population of 29 million. The police previously made about one million criminal record checks a year.

The checks are expected to be backed by publicity campaigns that will encourage employers to use the bureau to vet their staff.

A programme of checks on people working with children is to be extended next year to other jobs, including 300,000 people working in the commercial security industry.

Hundreds of thousands of other checks and drug tests are being made independently of the bureau, which is based in Merseyside and began operating last spring. The threat of terrorism after the 11 September attacks in America has led to new Department of Transport checks on staff who work "air side" at airports.

Football hooliganism has led Millwall Football Club in south-east London to demand that all supporters accept vetting and produce passports and utility bills as proof of identity.

The Ministry of Defence will vet 18,500 recruits to the armed forces for links to racist or terrorist groups and will drug-test 121,000 personnel next year.

The government drive means that a Criminal Record Certificate could soon become as essential for a job interview as a curriculum vitae and a suit.

As with the Entitlement Card proposed by the Government, which would guarantee access to public services, the certificate would be stored with vital documents in every home ­ a new symbol of a society that is taking a greater interest in the rights and misdemeanours of individuals.

Of the 11,627,595 checks predicted to be made each year from 2005, only 3.2 million will be on those who work with children. The other eight million or so certificates will be requested by people seeking to apply for work in a wide variety of other roles and professions.

To reach these targets ­ which the bureau must hit if it is to become a self-funding body ­ employers will have to be encouraged to demand the £12 certificates from applicants.

The sheer scale of the proposed vetting scheme has alarmed those attempting to find careers for people with criminal records in a nation where 30 per cent of men under 40 have been convicted. Craig Harris, the director of education and employment at the crime reduction charity Nacro, said the vetting programme would put the public at greater risk by forcing thousands to become career criminals.

"Putting more and more information about irrelevant and probably minor offences in the hands of employers is going to lead to judgements based not on risk but on corporate distaste," he said.

"Offender unemployment is going to continue to rise. It will add to crime and make society less safe." Mr Harris predicted an enormous marketing campaign to encourage employers to demand criminal records on the scale predicted by the bureau.

Harry Fletcher, the assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, agreed that people who had a criminal record would become unemployable. He said: "The certificate will become a mechanism for filtering out job applicants. The people with convictions won't have a chance."

The demand for more vetting has been driven by a greater fear of crime. Attacks on children by care workers, Scoutmasters, sports coaches and nannies have been highlighted by the press and have undermined the credibility of once-trusted occupations.

The growing influence of drugs has led to revelations of heroin-dealing traffic wardens and pill-peddling bouncers. Stories about the use of illicit substances in the armed forces have ensured that 121,000 service personnel will be tested for drugs this year.

Meanwhile, the fear of street crime has led to demands for more recruits to the police, including the hiring of 30,000 special constables and thousands more privately employed wardens and guards.

All the members of this uniformed army, from wheel-clampers to bouncers, are to be vetted from next year after the setting up of the Security Industry Authority. Scare stories about the criminal intentions of asylum-seekers have led to calls for more checks. And the Greater London Authority has ordered checks on the employment history and criminal records of 40,000 minicab drivers.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has proposed the introduction of a document for access to public services, described by some as a "national identity card by the back door". The Government wants to give police the power to access fingerprint records of any British citizen as part of the scheme.

A nation under scrutiny

PRIVATE SECURITY GUARDS: Some 300,000 workers in the private security industry will be vetted for criminal records after April, when the Security Industry Authority begins operation. The first checked will be door supervisors and wheel-clampers.

WARDENS: Thousands more uniformed patrols are being launched. Wardens in Trafalgar Square are given a 10-year work history check and vetted on the Police National Computer.

MINICAB DRIVERS: Fears of street crime and dissatisfaction with public transport have contributed to a growth in unlicensed minicabs. The Greater London Authority is to vet 40,000 drivers.

AIRPORT WORKERS: Terrorist fears after the 11 September attacks, combined with robberies at Heathrow airport, have raised security concerns. The Department of Transport ordered new vetting procedures for thousands of air side staff in July. The staff are also searched each time they enter the restricted zone.

CIVIL SERVANTS: Thousands of public-sector workers are vetted by the Government's security unit. The departments where most checks take place are the Passport Agency, Home Office, (especially the Immigration Service), Foreign Office and GCHQ, the government listening centre.

ARMED SERVICES: More than 18,000 recruits to the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will undergo basic vetting to ensure they are not linked to neo-Nazi or terrorist groups. Further checks made if they are deployed to high-security posts.

POLICE OFFICERS: There will be at least 9,000 new recruits next year and the Government wants to hire a further 30,000 as specials. All will be vetted to ensure they have not been involved in serious crime.

FOOTBALL SUPPORTERS: After a riot at its stadium in May, Millwall fans must produce passports, driving licences and utility bills to receive a membership card that will entitle them to watch football games.

ASYLUM-SEEKERS: Issued with Application Registration Cards (ARCs), containing fingerprint data, photograph, name, address and nationality.

ALL WORKERS: Proposals that all people wishing to access public services should obtain a "voluntary" entitlement card.

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