Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Last week I discovered that I have to have two separate checks made on me by the Criminal Records Bureau. One is because I am a trustee of a charity which works with children. The other is because I sometimes serve at the altar at Mass and therefore come into contact with children who do the same. In both cases, I have to produce documentary evidence of who I am and where I live to people who know these facts already, and I have to fill in forms in black ink with my National Insurance number and my unspent criminal convictions (none) on them. I have to do two forms for the same check because the Criminal Records Bureau 'does not endorse portability'. The people in the charity and the church then have to process the forms. In the case of the charity, it has to operate via the local council which uses its services, rather than directly to the Criminal Records Bureau, and this means that delay can be considerable, which is a real problem when it is trying to get a volunteer worker started and has to wait months for clearance.

Are these rules wrong? It matters, after all, that sex criminals do not work with children. I think they are wrong. The minor reason is the time-wasting. As a trustee of a charity, I have almost no direct contact with children, so the threat I might pose is very small. As an altar-server, I am in full view of the congregation most of the time, and if I am in the vestry with a child, there are always other people about: my duties never involve seeing the children anywhere else. Both the church and the charity are small concerns;

they have better things to do with their overcrowded time than deal with forms about me.

Such demands erode goodwill, particularly of volunteers. The major objection is to do with trust. As the word implies, a trustee has trust reposed in him by the other trustees. It is a matter for their judgment. This is true of the people who run matters in a church as well. If the law forces some of that judgment to be delegated to others, the mental emphasis among the other trustees changes.

Instead of making their own decisions, they start to look at all these matters as part of the boredom of 'compliance' and become less vigilant. Surely it should be up to each organisation to work out what checks it thinks appropriate, drawing on the CRB if it wants. If it is not concerned about such matters, nothing will go right, regardless of what formal procedures are followed. If it is concerned, it should not be ordered about.

These rules have little to do with caring for children, lots to do with back-covering.

It is an interesting fact that T.S. Eliot taught John Betjeman (born 100 years ago this week) at Highgate Junior School.

In 'Summoned by Bells', Betjeman calls Eliot 'That dear good man', and says that he never was able to find out what Eliot thought of his poems. But the influence of Eliot on Betjeman perhaps helps to explain the fact that, for all his nostalgia and 'accessibility', Betjeman is a modern poet.

You can see their difference, and their similarity, in the way they describe the same phenomenon. Here is Eliot, in 'East Coker', the second of Four Quartets:

'Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about. …

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