Letters: Anger at proposed vetting procedures

Authors angered by vetting for child abuse
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The Independent Online

When considering the plan to charge authors, and anyone else who has the slightest interest in "the citizens of tomorrow", £64 to be entered onto yet another database, it should be remembered that the root cause of this bureaucracy is a failure by the Home Office to do its job.

The database is supposedly to prevent people like Ian Huntley being in a school. If the Home Office had ensured that proper advice was given to police forces then police in Hull would not have believed that they were prevented by the Data Protection Act from passing on information about previous incidents involving Huntley, even though he was not just making a visit to a school but employed there and provided with accommodation on the premises.

It would be too much to hope that the people who failed in this have been fired; instead they have set up a new "independent" vetting scheme which will put off many civic-minded people, mainly parents, from volunteering as school governors, helping with class trips or listening to children reading.

Draping an ill thought-out policy in the tragic imagery of Holly and Jessica is typical of this government's penchant for tabloid "initiatives".

John Kennett

South Warnborough, Hampshire

Each time the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells are recalled, newspapers repeat the myth that "Ian Huntley was a janitor at their school" ("Authors boycott schools over sex-offence register", 16 July). He wasn't. At the time of the murders Huntley was the caretaker at the local secondary school, Soham Village College. The link to the girls was via his girlfriend, Maxine Carr, who was a teaching assistant at Holly and Jessica's school.

In the murder inquiry, therefore, the fact that Huntley was a janitor at a different school was irrelevant – he could have been anyone who happened to live nearby and have a girlfriend who knew the two girls. The fact that he slipped through the vetting net was appalling and could have led to further offences, but it was not a factor in this crime.

Mark Stickings

Bromley, Kent

Would that the performing arts representative bodies would act as decisively as the authors and illustrators are doing over the bureaucracy strangling artists working in schools. It is already a regular occurrence to be asked for enhanced criminal records checks, to show proof of public liability insurance and to submit a detailed risk assessment.

My company provides puppet shows and storytelling performances for five- to seven-year-olds. These are done in a school hall in front of classes of children who have with them their teachers, teaching assistants and very often their parents and carers. We are, for the most part, inside a puppet stage and out of sight.

The quangocrats who inspire this level of regulatory supervision should know the level of contempt, disrespect and loathing with which they are regarded by those of us bringing a little enlightenment and fun into the lives of young people. The harm they are doing by suggesting to children that all adults are dangerous until vetted is itself a form of abuse.

Their motives may be pure but their actions are woefully misguided.

Glyn Edwards

Director, Blue Sky Theatre

Worthing, West Sussex

High-profile authors are by no means the only professionals suffering because of the application of the Vetting and Barring scheme in schools. Equity members, who can be employed in a variety of roles in schools – as actors, performers and story-tellers, for example – are also caught up in this bureaucratic and expensive mess.

The introduction of this new scheme on top of the already onerous Criminal Records Bureau checks is putting considerable pressure on our members and may ultimately lead to the impoverishment of children's education. Unlike Philip Pullman or Anthony Horowitz, many of our members rely on the money they earn from their education work and cannot afford to boycott schools.

Equity understands the desire to protect children, but it has always been the union's position that our members' work does not require them to be left in sole charge of children or vulnerable adults and that they should always be working alongside appropriately qualified staff. As such we are not convinced that our members need to be subject to such complex vetting and should not have to bear such high costs.

Stephen Spence

Assistant General Secretary Live Performance, Equity

London, WC2

This choir has no objection to our director of music being vetted. Would that £64 were the only expense. The way we provide the musical education of our under-18s requires the vetting of most, if not all, of the adult members of the choir. For 20 adults, that is a potential bill of £1,280. Small choirs don't have that kind of money.

Clive Chaney

All Saints Choir, Wokingham

I am writing to express how disappointed I was to read of authors refusing to go into our schools because they are required to undergo vetting as a safeguard against paedophiles. I find their reaction small-minded and egocentric. They seem to put an over-sensitive regard for what they see as their civil liberties above child safety.

We know that teachers, school caretakers, singers, actors and priests can be paedophiles. It must be true of authors too. How can a school tell if there is a record of child molestation buried in an author's past? And that he or she may not use the opportunity of a school visit, and their own authority, to obtain a child's mobile number or email address?

Not just teachers but thousands of people who work with children, including, for example, parents who help out at events such as cub camps, are required to go through this vetting. It would have been nice if Quentin Blake, the former Children's Laureate, could have seen this as an opportunity to set a worthwhile example to all these more humble people, even if it did cost him £64.

Richard Ayres

Thames Ditton, Surrey

Children's authors are annoyed at the new child protection database not because they think they are above the law, but because the law is a nonsense. When a visiting speaker comes into a class, teachers do not just leave him to it and nip off to the staff room for a fag. They listen too so they can discuss the visit with the children afterwards and also deal with any problems – child playing up, child needing the toilet etc. Strict rules need only apply to people who are alone with children for an appreciable amount of time.

Katherine Carter

Shaldon, Devon

I can understand why the authors object to having to register on a database in order to go into schools. I wonder, though, if they have thought of the following scenario.

An author, who is also a paedophile, goes into a school to talk to the children. He or she is introduced by the head and supported by other teachers so the children view him/her as a trusted adult. A few days later the author approaches a child outside the school with the words "Hello. Remember me from your English lesson on Monday?"

These authors should play the game and get registered for the sake of all our children.

Ian Barge

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

It doesn't make any sense to vet just the distinguished authors who visit schools. Has the Independent Safeguarding Authority not also considered the dangers children face whilst travelling to and from school, with all the distinguished authors waiting to pounce who might be lurking in buses, trains and sweet shops or, given the creativity and imagination of these cunning predators, maybe even masquerading as lollipop ladies or police officers? In the case of J K Rowling, every passing dog or cat should be treated with extreme suspicion.

Alasdair Brown

London N19

Support for veterans

Your report "Shocking suicide toll on combat veterans" (15 July) fails to highlight the support available to former members of the Armed Forces.

The Manchester report showed that suicide rates in service leavers are mostly lower than in the general population. The one exception to this is young single men who leave the Army early. While any suicide is regrettable, it is important to set your report in this context.

The majority of veterans receive excellent treatment from NHS mental health services, but we recognise that for some it is difficult to discuss their experiences with civilian practitioners. We and the NHS have developed six community mental health schemes across the country tailored for veterans, and we have extended the medical assessment programme at St Thomas' Hospital in London, run by a former military consultant psychiatrist.

Extra support is provided for vulnerable service leavers from the MoD's Veterans Welfare Service, ex-Services welfare organisations and other government departments.

We see no evidence of a "time bomb", but we have increased the monitoring of veterans' communities in recent years. This includes research from King's College London, which could help us to identify demand early and provide necessary support.

The figure of an estimated 264 suicides among Falklands Veterans is often quoted, but is unsubstantiated. Research into the rates of suicide among Gulf war veterans found them to be no greater than in a similar-sized civilian population.

Kevan Jones MP

Minister for Veterans, Ministry of defence, London SW1

Nothing snobbish about our golf club

Mark Steel's article "People would play golf if the sport wasn't so snobbish" (15 July) was complete nonsense. I belong to a private members' club (in Cheltenham, no less) and should Mr Steel want to find a builder, plumber, carpenter or a host of other tradesmen he might like to join our members in the clubhouse. It's the same in all of the other clubs I visit.

There isn't a problem in attracting people to the sport either. We have a junior section of 100 members, with more youngsters coming forward all the time. They come from all the schools in the area, and I can promise Mr Steel that they are not posh. It isn't necessary to wear jacket and tie in the clubhouse and smart casual is fine, or would he prefer scruffy?

Ray Jennings

Woodmancote, Gloucestershire

Sailing to glory

So many stories of teenage killings, druggies, drop-outs, welfare scroungers, classroom absentees, academic failures. So it's great to know that the wonderfully brave and skilful Zac Sunderland has sailed round the world at just 17. Totally bonkers. And I love it.

Allan Friswell

Cowling, North Yorkshire

Elusive army

Reports in your paper this week including the article by Davis Davis (17 July) refer to current plans for the Afghan army. There are always plans for the Afghan army. This army, so it seems, is not ready, and has not been since 2002. So how ready were 18-year-old British soldiers who died in action last week?

Derec H Jones

Dolgellau, Gwynedd

Unelected president

Andrew Grice (17 July) wonders if anything can stop Tony Blair becoming President of Europe. It is one thing for the presidency to rotate round the member states every six months, but a full-time president is an entirely different matter. A full-time president must be elected by the people of Europe. To impose such a president would be an outrage and wholly against the philosophy and principles of a democratic Europe. If the Lisbon Treaty does not provide for an elected president then the Treaty must be rejected outright.

David McKaigue

Thornton Hough, Wirral

Dinner with the PM

I was appalled to read of the hospitality being lavished by the Prime Minister, at taxpayers' expense, on having bunches of celebrities to dinner. In my job, I will not get refunded entertainment expenses unless they are directly linked to the business I am involved in. Since when did the stars of Little Britain, or Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, form part of the process of government?

Nigel Cubbage

Merstham, Surrey

What about nuclear?

Why is the Government's Low Carbon Transition Plan so quiet on nuclear? It seems to be all about windmills and other trivial flim-flam. Yes, let's put a windmill every 50 metres from Hinkley Point in Somerset, all the way to Land's End. Or, build a new N-plant on the Hinkley site. The power generation would be equivalent. Well at least it would be if it was very very windy all day, every day, all year, every year, for decades.

Tim Brook


Non-smoking cats

I have always found Dave Brown's superb cartoons to be one of the highlights of The Independent. His depictions of the fat cats, in particular, are spot on. I have noticed recently, however, that these characters no longer have large cigars. Surely the cigars have not fallen prey to political correctness?

Martin Copeman

St Ives, Cambridgeshire