Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Child protection issues - Why we need more police resources for child safety in Barnet

Last night I attended a meeting of a local, Mill Hill based community organisation, of which I have been a member for some years. About half way through the meeting, the chair of the organisation did something which caused a huge amount of disquiet in the room. I think he rather likes being controversial. He put a slide up on his presentation, which effectively outed a paedophile who was sentenced in 2011. The slide was a news article from the Barnet Times dating from 2011. The article stated that the person in question lived locally. The nine people in the room were quite stunned by this action.  One member of the committee was extremely upset that this had been brought before the committee, as they felt this compromised the individuals privacy, however as the article is on a widely read newspaper, that was distributed free at the time throughout Mill Hill, the information was already clearly in the public domain. A Mill Hill Councillor, who was in attendance excused themselves at this point, presumably for legal reasons (they said nothing apart from excusing themselves, just upping and leaving) presumably as they may be privy to private information and did not want to get involved in speculation about such cases. I don't want to go into the why's and wherefore's of the chairs action or the individual case. What I do want to discuss is the how we, as a society, deal with such issues of public interest and how we deal with offenders who have done their time and have been released back into society. I also want to share some information as to what we, the public are and aren't allowed to know. 

For the record, I had been made aware of these rumours in August last year through a 'tip off' on a Facebook site from an anonymous facebook account, clearly set on making mischief for the said individual. My initial reaction was to seek clarification as to whether the individual in the news story was the same individual as one I knew, as suggested by the person who provided the tip off, as the name is not an uncommon one. Clearly if it was a different person, the whole thing was clearly malicious and rather unfair,  A polite enquiry to the Police was met with a response that details of individuals cannot be disclosed for data protection reasons, but advised that as a business, we should operate in such a way that any member of the public (not just those named in newspaper articles) are not put in a position to put vulnerable people in danger. On balance this was wise advice. I was also advised that if I believed that any of the young people who used my business were in contact with said individual, I should advise the parents/carers to seek an application under Sarah's law to find out and take the appropriate action. As this seemed unlikely in the case of my business, this should not be required, but clearly we have a duty of care should any individual visit our premises or any event featuring young children with which we are involved and we are given cause for concern. So I am not in a position 

Schools, charities, public bodies etc usually ensure that people involved receive a DBS check. The discussion last night sparked some debate over what constituted a volunteer for a charity and whether they need one. There is a website that gives advice on who should have one. I would advise all parents/carers to satisfy themselves that sufficient checks are in place. My take on it is that anyone who has nothing to hide should be perfectly happy to have a DBS if asked, for any role in the community. For the record, Parking offences and other trivial matters would not be flagged up. For some other offences, an organisation may take a view. There are many former offenders of a non sexual nature, who turn their lives around and do amazing work with young offenders and it would be crazy to prevent this. My view is that, within reason, such people's privacy should be respected, but there is also a duty of care, due to children and vulnerable people.

All of my children are now over 18, so fortunately this is not an issue for me directly right now. However at some point in the future, hopefully I will have grandchildren. At that point, it will doubtless be a very serious issue for our family. Researching this article, I was informed that there are 234 of  registered sex offenders monitored by the responsible Police team in the London Borough of Barnet and there are four officers dealing with them and monitoring them. That is around 500 hours of police time a month, or just a couple of hours a month each, by the time they've driven around to see them, there would be no time to actually monitor them. Some of those will clearly be taking up far much more time, which means that the craftier ones, who know how to keep their profile low, have very little monitoring. We need to know that our children are safe and those that pose a threat to them are properly monitored and supervised, as a very minimum. A friend of mine is a former prison governor. I was once discussing the issue of reforming criminals. He was saying that most burglars etc generally get fed up of being locked up after a while and turn their lives around. I then asked about sex offenders. He said in his experience, they stopped when they were too old or ill or infirm to carry on. That is why they need to be closely monitored.

I was thinking about this issue all day. It is clear that the Police do not have the numbers to do the job properly. With holidays and sickness there will be some days  when we have one officer for all 234 offenders. It strikes me that a minimum of a couple of hours a month police time is far too little, a day each would be more appropriate, to keep tabs would be a far more realistic figure. That would require around 16 officers. I think this would be money well spent. There is a huge body of evidence that young people who are sexually abused go on to have serious mental health issues, some go on to become offenders themselves, some fall into drug abuse and crime. I believe that it is a false economy to understaff this aspect of policing. Our politicians need to start properly funding many aspects of the Police service, but this is perhaps the most urgent. 

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