Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Innocent people branded criminals on government database: the victims' stories

The Mail on Sunday has more on the victims of the UK Criminal Records Bureau:
One of those whose lives have been ruined by the CRB is 19-year-old Emma Budd, from Maesteg, Glamorgan, who is still fighting to have her records amended after being wrongly accused of having two convictions for theft. She was rejected for two jobs teaching disabled children as a result of the mistake and has now spent almost two years trying to have the error rectified.

In 2004, she applied for a position at the National Children's Home and paid £34 for the CRB check - only to be told to her horror that she had two alleged 'convictions' for theft.

Emma said: 'I have never stolen anything in my life. But I was devastated - I felt like a criminal even though I knew I wasn't one. I disputed the results. I had to go down to the police station and have my fingerprints taken. It was mortifying.'

She added: 'The police blamed the Criminal Records Bureau for the mistake and the CRB blamed the police. It was all down to the bureaucracy. Nobody would take the blame.'

Finally the police told her that her name had been cleared and she applied to work as a home carer - but to her amazement, the required criminal records check again listed her as a convicted thief.

She has now been reassured that her records have been amended but says she will not believe this until she sees it working in practice.

David Mansfield, 58, was prevented from taking up a post as an assistant for children with learning difficulties at a local college after the CRB wrongly identified him as a peddler of hardcore pornography.

Mr Mansfield, from Hertford, who spent a lifetime working in the transport division of the NHS before taking early retirement, said: 'The CRB record claimed I had been convicted for selling hardcore pornography in Bournemouth in 1972. It was absolutely ridiculous.

'It was a horrible slur on my character and I was determined to clear my name. But you find you're dealing with a nebulous, faceless bureaucracy which makes it worse.

'It was hard work to get any replies and I was always chasing them. But I was determined to have my name cleared because it meant I would be debarred from doing any community or social or voluntary work.

'Eventually, the CRB admitted they had made a mistake and sent me £150 as an ex-gratia payment, but there was no apology.'
The Mail on Sunday editorial draws the obvious conclusions:
The apparatus of vigilance cannot be trusted to use its existing powers well or wisely. After all the recent revelations of Home Office incompetence, the disclosure that almost 1,500 citizens have been wrongly said to have criminal records is less shocking than it would once have been.

Even so, the scale of this bungle ought to be a strong warning against the Government's halfcompleted and so far voluntary plans to put us all on a national identity database.

Such a system would be far larger, far more all-embracing and far more open to misuse and confusion than the Criminal Records Bureau. And, given the gullible reliance of bureaucrats on official records, imagine the endless battles to clear names and overcome identity confusion that are bound to result.

Thousands of us will be constantly having our fingerprints retaken to persuade inflexible jobsworths that we are not terrorists or child molesters.

On the basis of its performance so far, the official claim that ID cards will be a protection against identity theft may well turn out to be the opposite of the truth. The State, whose job it is to safeguard the people, instead stole the good names from hundreds of decent individuals. Those who had nothing to hide turned out to have plenty to fear.

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