CHECK MATES; the Scandal of Criminal Background Checks - Why Council Chiefs Need Them, but Not Ice Cream Sellers and Building Contractors Working in Courts

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THE system of government criminal background checks has come under fire over bizarre inconsistencies which mean council chief executives need police checks - while sweetshop workers, ice-cream sellers and driving instructors don't.

Criticism of the system came as Wales on Sunday was told unvetted workers were being given after-hours access to judges' chambers across the nation.

Since reforms to the new Vetting and Barring Scheme came into force last year, school governors, council bosses and legal staff have all had to register for Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) clearance. The Home Office says the bureaucracy is essential to protect the public, but some of those caught up in it have highlighted discrepancies in who does or does not require approval to work.

A former security systems worker told Wales on Sunday he had access to judges' chambers and rooms packed with legal records in courts across South Wales, with no checks on him at STS Building Services.

He and his colleagues undertook a raft of works including fitting alarms, CCTV and restricted access systems after hours. Yet only supervisors are required to be CRB-checked, the Home Office has admitted.

The former project manager, who did not wish to be named, said: "I've worked in the Home Office myself and obviously needed to have security checks there, so I was shocked there were no checks needed to go in to the courts.

"We had full access to all court records rooms, the judges' chambers and offices. Most of that work is still going on; it's done on night shifts.

"Sometimes the company would have to get people at very short notice. There's a very high turnover of people at the company and within one or two days of starting, they'd be left in the courts at night."

HM Courts Service admitted not all on-site staff were required to undergo CRB checks. The onus is on contractors to do background checks, but only on supervisors.

Other positions exempt from security checks include taxi drivers, gymnastics coaches working once a fortnight, hobby club leaders and ice cream sellers.

Yet CRB checks are required for posts which, unlike sweet shop workers, are unlikely to come into daily contact with children.

These include health workers undertaking just one visit a month, website moderators, council chief executives and school governors, who typically meet once a term, usually outside school hours.

Carol Sayce, chairwoman of Governors Wales, said: "We support the overall scheme but until they know the detail, of course, school governors are very concerned.

"Governors, because they are volunteers and often in full-time paid employment, haven't had much time with classes. That ethos is changing but I'm sure there's still a lot of governors thinking, 'What's this all about and why do I need this?'" The Home Office's guidelines accept "abuse can occur in one-off encounters" but adds checks are "necessarily pragmatic" so as not to be intrusive. …