Kate Coleman is the Director of Keep Prisons Single Sex. Their report can be read here.
In December 2003, Ian Huntley was convicted of the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, two 10-year old girls. At the time of committing the murders, Huntley had been employed at a local college as a caretaker, a role that facilitated his access to children. Although he had previously come into contact with the police over alleged sexual offences on many occasions, this information had not been disclosed during the vetting check carried out at the time of his appointment.
It is no exaggeration to say that the murders of the two girls and the subsequent discovery that Huntley should, and could, have been prevented from taking up the role of caretaker had a profound effect nationwide. In 2004, following an independent inquiry, the Bichard Report was published. This concluded that there had been extensive omissions and failures in the vetting process.
Significantly, Huntley had changed his name by deed poll to Ian Nixon and it was this identity that he had presented for the criminal record check. Consequently, the check was only carried out against this new identity. Huntley successfully severed the link with his existing police records and those held against the name ‘Ian Huntley’, including the alleged sexual offences, were not disclosed.
It is now eighteen years since the publication of the Bichard Report, yet applicants remain able to submit identity documents for DBS checks that display a new identity. The safeguarding loopholes created and facilitated by the DBS are extraordinary.
Individuals are now able to change their identity in a more fundamental way than Ian Huntley achieved, by simultaneously changing both name and gender. Any individual can easily, for any reason and without challenge, change their name and gender via a process of self-declaration on documents used to establish identity.
These documents, that include passport and driving licence, can be presented for the purposes of a DBS check and will show the individual’s new name and their acquired gender instead of their sex. Any individual who wishes to sever the connection with their previous identity in order to facilitate access to vulnerable groups has an easy way to do so. Where police records are recorded against the ‘old identity’, these simply won’t show up during a check.
The Sensitive Applications Route is a service for those who have changed gender, including by self-declaration. It enables these applicants to submit their previous identities directly to the DBS, bypassing the organisation that has requested the check, in order that checks may also be carried out against them. However, use of the Sensitive Applications Route relies on the applicant’s honesty and there is nothing to prevent an individual from presenting their new identity and simply leaving it at that.
Furthermore, the organisation with professional responsibility for safeguarding and which requires the check is not entitled to know whether an applicant clearly of one sex, but presenting identity documents stating the other, has used the Sensitive Applications Route.
The DBS, through the Sensitive Applications Route, grants enhanced privacy rights to individuals who change their gender. These exceptional rights are only granted to individuals from this group. Where an applicant uses this route, the DBS withholds their previous names from the DBS certificate that is issued. However, this right to conceal previous identities is not given to anyone else: disclosing previous identities is a key component of safeguarding and DBS certificates issued to all other individuals display all other names the applicant has ever used.
The DBS will also conceal the sex of an applicant who uses the Sensitive Application Route. Despite knowing that the applicant is of one sex, the DBS issues a certificate issued displaying their acquired gender instead. This right is not granted to any other individual: the importance of sex to safeguarding means that for all other applicants, their sex is always displayed. As a general principle, when working with children or vulnerable adults, there will always be sex-based safeguarding considerations.
The DBS plays a vital and unique role in safeguarding. By processing criminal record checks for individuals who have applied to work in roles where safeguarding considerations apply, organisations can access key information that will assist them in making safer recruiting decisions. The ability of a DBS check to play this role in safeguarding rests entirely on the relevance, completeness and accuracy of the information returned and displayed on the DBS certificate.
However, the current operation of the DBS regime means that identity verification is compromised and organisations requesting DBS checks cannot have confidence in the information that is disclosed. The DBS is actively depriving organisations of information they need in order to fulfil their safeguarding duties.
In order to be effective, the rules of safeguarding must apply equally to everyone. Whenever the members of one group are excused from the normal requirements of safeguarding, a loophole is created that is ripe for exploitation.