Leading article: Paedophilia and paranoia

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The Independent Online

The important charge against Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, is one of a lack of urgency in implementing Sir Michael's recommendations. Attempts to pin the blame for individual cases on her or her junior ministers are secondary.

That said, the buck-passing blame game has helped illuminate the issues. Take the case of Paul Reeve, the man on the Sex Offenders' Register, who became a PE teacher in Norwich, after Kim Howells, a junior education minister, signed off the department's advice that he did not pose a risk to children in his care.

The decision to allow him to continue as a teacher after he received a caution for looking at child pornography on the internet was a curious one. There has been much comment about grey areas and legal complexity. The system clearly was imperfect, as Ms Kelly has admitted by saying that she is going to change it. There was an element of ministerial discretion, which everyone now agrees was unnecessary. Some individual cases were decided by ministers; others were decided by the obscure Care Standards Tribunal.

But, in this case, there was no grey area. Mr Reeve had accepted a police caution, which is an admission of guilt. He had then denied to the Department for Education that he had accessed child pornography "intentionally". Maybe he is innocent. Perhaps he chose to accept a caution, calculating that his chances of pleading an honest mistake in front of a jury were not good. But he cannot escape the fact that, as the law stands, a caution can be only given to an adult "who has admitted guilt for an offence". Thus Mr Howells made the wrong decision, and Ms Kelly the right one, namely to ensure that anyone who is cautioned for a child sex offence cannot work in a school. Meanwhile, her department is desperately trying to find similar cases to Mr Reeve's so that they can be sacked, too.

For once, a press scare story about paedophilia has had a positive effect - although not necessarily for Mr Reeve - in that it has restored a sense of urgency that should never have been lost.

It is, of course, impossible to ensure that paedophiles will never gain access to children in schools or elsewhere. But Sir Michael made a number of universally accepted proposals to make the system simpler, more transparent and more reliable. Many of them involve overhauling police and other public service bureaucracies and making huge computer databases reliable and compatible. These are not simple or quick reforms, but the Reeve case has exposed further anomalies that should have been identified before. Eighteen months after Bichard, she is now acting to bring the two main lists of offenders into line.

Ms Kelly should not have needed to be shocked into promising to introduce legislation in the House of Commons by the end of February. Now she needs to show that she has control of the system, that the Bichard reforms are being enacted, and that everyone understands who cannot get a job in schools and why.