back to article Criminal record checks: More often wrong than right

Sleight of hand by the Home Office doesn’t quite cover up the fact that last year the number of people wrongly branded as criminals was actually more than the number of people identified as having committed a sex crime. That is the picture that emerges if you take the time to wade through the morass of ever-so-slightly skewed …


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  1. Brian Miller

    So Scotland is less accurate still?

    As only 0.02% of the cases were disputed down south and 0.036% in scotland.

    That makes them nearly twice as innaccurate. However I very much doubt that is the case. I would guess that many of the disputes are misguided perhaps?

    Anyway, if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear... ;)

    LOL, only yoking, Everybody has something to fear.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah, it's messed up.

    I've recently been involved in a local government project to transfer the personal and medical details (name, address, phone number) of every student in over 120 schools in the district to a new school management system. The data was all plain text CSV/XML files as well as student pictures from some schools and I was expected to handle it yet I've never had a CRB check.

    I did point this out to management but they didn't seem to care. Lucky for them I'm safe as they come but seeing as we also had someone convicted of having thousands of child porn images on their PC a few years back come as a bit of a shock to us you'd think they'd learn their lesson.

    Gotta wonder who they actually are CRB checking, as it doesn't seem very thorough yet the guidelines seem to cover many, there must be a lot of people getting CRB checked who really don't need it.

    It stinks, it really does, and I've been more than happy to do a CRB check because I know I'd come back clean but the point is that my employer doesn't know that, just as they didn't know it with that guy here years ago who did get caught by the police but only due to his actions outside of work.

  3. Graham Marsden

    Ah but...

    ... it doesn't matter because the Government can say "We are Doing Something" and "We're Thinking of the Little Children"!

  4. Neil

    Of course

    There are no new criminals - only the existing ones who will already show up. So that's a completely foolproof system, then.

  5. Graham Wood

    Disclosure Scotland

    Working for a bank based in London, my last CRB check was carried out by Disclosure Scotland - not sure how that works if it's Scottish employees only...

    The poor success rate is unfortunately a direct affect of the way the statistics pan out. If you've got a 0.1% chance of mistakenly flagging someone as guilty (when innocent), and only 0.1% of people are guilty... Anyone you flag as guilty has a 50% chance of actually being innocent.

    Once the percentage of people being guilty drops, it gets even worse... If it's 0.01% of people that are guilty, then 90% of people flagged are actually innocent!

    Yuks, sucks, etc... However whilst I don't agree that children need to be wrapped in as much cotton wool as they are (even with a child of my own), some people are a danger - and this is about as good as it gets at the moment ;(

  6. Peter Fairbrother

    3.3 million checks?

    If 3.3 million is 6.6% of the working population, that implies there are 50 million people of working age in England , Wales and perhaps NI. Seems a bit high to me, as the total population is of England, Wales and NI is only 56 million.

    Take off those under 16, women over 60, men over 65, the million or two on disability and .. I'd say the rate was more like 10%.

    Even 6.6% is a hell of a lot of checks. Does everyone who applies for a job get checked?

  7. John Miles

    Postfacto selection

    One can't simply judge the effectiveness of the process just from the true and false 'detection' rate.

    The very fact that the CRB process exists will inhibit a lot of unsuitable people from applying for a position since they know that the CRB check is likely to identify their past record.

    This number (whatever it is) would also have to be added to the number actually detected in order to judge the effectiveness of the process in screening applicants - the problem is I doubt that anyone really knows how many people are deterred by CRB.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not only those working with children / vulnerable adults

    In terms of protecting children / vulnerable adults I think it's worth noting that as an archery coach I have to go through an enhanced CRB or stop being a coach, regardless of the fact that I have never coached children or vulnerable adults, and with the state of things these days have no intention to ever do so.

    Now since the rules that govern archery coaching is virtually the same as most other sports I imagine that most other coaches within the country have to go through the exact same thing, again regardless of their intention to coach children and vulnerable adults.

    So yes, there are definitely loads of people who could potentially be caught by this without ever having any intention of interacting with those it's supposed to protect.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's worse than that....

    CRB checks are not only carried out on those working with children and vulnerable adults. The New VBS service however will only cover these groups for now, with one check and then permanent monitoring. CRB checks will continue to be available for commercial companies. The other thing is that if you work with say A shcool, Help The Aged and The Scouts, each one has to check you, so a lot of those 3.3 million are duplicates.

    A side effect of the CRB check has been a reduction in the number of people prepared to work with these groups, on a voluntary basis. It was interesting to note that the Minister responsible claimed this was not so because the number of checks was going up year on year, well they would, just about anybody who works in government and finance will have one done when the join the company, although they are not repeated annually as those for Children & Vulnerable Adults.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is there an economist?

    So with some assumptions about the MO of kiddy-fiddlers, how long "grooming" takes, etc etc it might be possible to put a notional cost on the prevention of child sexual abuse?

    I am quite unfit to do the maths let alone make any assumptions, as I've just had a 6-course lunch.

  11. Leo Stretch

    @Postfacto Selection, John Miles

    But, John what you miss is that it's only an inhibitor if they've been caught/accused/suspected in the first place.. some undesirables DO seem to be quite good at not getting caught/accused/suspected in the first place, thus rendering any CRB check on them potentially useless, since they are, to all intents and purposes, clean.

    Seems to me, that defeats the purpose of the system?

  12. Dave

    @Peter Fairbrother

    You forget that many people will be checked repeatedly - these things don't carry over, if I remember correctly, so if you apply for ten jobs, then you will get checked ten times, regardless of whether those are consecutive or not.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Peter Fairbrother

    You forget that many people are checked more than once as they don't seem to be transferable. For example, teachers doing supply teaching will be checked once per agency that they register with.

  14. Magnus

    @John Miles

    So, some sex offenders are foiled but at least the same number of innocent people are labelled as deviants for life and can't help out with their children's after school activities etc.

    I for one don't want to think I'm entering a lottery every time I want to help out somewhere with the "jackpot" being a potential lifetime of ostracism...

    I'm all for preventative measures but any system where you have roughly the same number of false positives as true positives is broken.

  15. Edward Rose


    @Leo Stretch

    His point is perfectly valid, okay some people don't get caught and don't show up on a CRB check, but the alternative is to shot everyone and be done with it.

    @Archery Coach

    So, you'd refuse to teach any adult just because they came under the classification of 'vulnerable'. I hope this is through a lack of thinking and not just you being a discriminating little tosspot.

    Also, all these stories in the news, all what? two or three a year, mostly over hyped. Don't let that put you off, there is a lot that you can do for the community by helping the kids and a lot of satisfaction to be taken from seeing them succeed (sounds cheesey, but tough).

    So, good luck with the coaching and I hope you're more willing to consider working with more vulnerable people in the future.

    As for the CRB check, it's a hassle, but a worthy one I feel.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How many were men?

    Seems to me that nearly all of these latest laws (e.g. talk dirty = sex offence, chatting up a women at work = sex offence, having consented sex while drunk = sex offence, being in possession of a penis, looking at women funny on the bus) are aimed at *men*.

    So how did the numbers break down then between men and women?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another question...

    Does the fake claim of sexual abuse that divorced wives seeking to gain custody of the kids count in this database of other information?

    What about other unsubstantiated claims? Or even rejected claims?

    What about if I asked a girl out and she freaks because she's insecure, calls the rozzers because her mum is a nutter and doesn't understand? What then? Is that on the Jacqui Smiths, all-men-are-evil sex register?

    How much of that 190000 pieces of information that were turned up are nothing more government sanctioned libel?

  18. martin whinnery

    It's boring, guys.

    You know, the world would be a much better place if you just STFU. You hijack a discussion around how well child protection systems work, to start bitching about how "men are being discriminated against!! It's not fair!! You've only to look at a girl and it's rape!!"

    You don't by any chance feel that white people are underdogs too, do you?

    Grow up.

  19. peter
    Thumb Down

    Innocent till proven guilty....unless it is inconvenient

    "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer," English jurist William Blackstone.

    Or did I get that quote the wrong way round?

    Attorney General Thomas Chisholm Anstley "Better hang the wrong men than confess that British sagacity and activity have failed to discover the real criminals."

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So 99.5% men? 99.975% false accusation rate

    "You know, the world would be a much better place if you just STFU."

    No, I'm interested in this and it's important.

    What's the percentage of men vs women? Take a real occupation, say teaching junior school kids.

    There is the number of teacher convicted of sex crimes against kids, I'm guessing that is very low, less than say 1 or 2 a year from before this measure was brought in. What drop is convictions for crimes against kids by teachers has happened as a result of this? None? one? What?

    Then there's the number of men refused the right to a teaching job they were good at, say 4000?? How many women were refused, 10? 20?

    Seems to me the rate of false libel against men would be 1 in 4000 or 99.975% government sponsored libel. With 99.5% of them being men.

    And if the rate hasn't dropped then it's 100% false accusation rate.

    It's fine to you just as long as the false accusation isn't made against you, is that your real name? I suspect if you'd trained to be a teacher and was barred based on hearsay, you might see it differently.

  21. Michael

    not so much

    It's not so much that white people are underdogs as much as there is no White History Month like there is a Black History Month in the US... There is no National Association for the Advancement of White People like there is an NAACP. An average student who happens to be white and middle-class gets no help for university, while an average, middle-class, "minority" student gets scholarships out the arse.

    It's a double standard, like how the term "domestic violence" is almost universally interpreted to mean "man beats woman" as if the reverse never occurs. Or how when white people get the shaft, it's "reverse discrimination", as if minority groups have the exclusive rights to "normal" discrimination.

    Anyway, that's my slightly related rant for the day, now I'm taking my ball and going home.

  22. Stewart Haywood

    False +ve not the only problem.

    If there are false positives then there are also false negatives. I see no mention of these anywhere. Does this mean that the system is not beeing correctly checked and audited, or could it be that government IT is soooo good that they don't make this sort of mistake?

    If we would only think of the children (sorry I had to say that), we would see two problems. There are people who have not been found out but are a danger. I assume that the police must have some idea of how many undetected crimes of a particular nature are out there. There must also be those who are a danger, have been found out but do not get detected by the system. So, let's see those numbers.

  23. Anonymous Coward


    Why don't they simply castrate anybody who wants to work with children?

    Got to end up cheaper.

    And we all know that anyone who wants to work with sprogs is sick anyway, The Daily Mail tells us frequently.

  24. martin whinnery

    Re: False +ve not the only problem.

    Whilst we're "thinking of the children", what scares me the most is not the pretty tiny possibility that my (or anyone else's) child might be abused. It's horrific, but not actually very likely. What's almost certain, and I'd argue deeply damaging to all children, is that my child, and everyone else's, is going to miss out on the innocent, caring affection that many adults will now withhold because they're scared of the paedo label. Seriously, it scares me, and there's nothing I can do to protect my child.

    Of course we need to nurture and protect our children (and each other, for that matter), but we run the risk in giving a tiny amount of extra protection, taking away an enormous quantity of nurturing, and impoverishing all of our children as a result. We need to give up on this childish dream of making everything bad go away forever. Cos we're making the good things go away, and the bad shit? Still here. EPIC FAIL

    Practically, in this instance, false negatives are inevitable. Bad, but true. False positives should be dealt with by a fast and fair appeals process, combined with the CRB result being available to the employer only after the appointment is decided. So where the false +ve is clearly an error of fact, sort it quick, no harm done. Where it's less clear cut, there'll still be a few unlucky ones who just luck out.

    That's rotten, but it's just how it is.

    @michael - there's a line, I don't know where from. "I was sweating like a nigger at a white woman's funeral". And a racist would take it to mean blacks are probably killers and rapists, and anyone else would guess the black man's scared because he just knows he'll get the blame, whatever happened. But either way, it fits, historically at least. And perhaps in some god-forsaken places even now. Turn it around "I was sweating like a honky at a black woman's funeral". It loses any connection with reality. THAT'S why there's an NAACP. To bring about the Advancement of Colored People towards equality. And if you check income, health or imprisonment statistics, I think you'll be bound to agree they've not succeeded yet.

    Domestic violence, is mostly carried out by us men. We're socialised to consider violence a potentially successful strategy, and we're built for it. On average. They think it's a guy 'cos it probably is.

    The term you're looking for is 'exploitation'. That's when people get shafted. When one group of people get shafted more than another, that's discrimination.

    @AC Of course it's my name. You think I'd make that up? Losery was, I think, the most amusing variation. The mind boggles as to why Mr and Mrs Coward named thier little boy 'Anonymous' though.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Edward Rose re: archery coach

    You make a valid point, I don't think I've explained myself very well. In terms of vulnerable adults it's simply not something that has ever come up in my years of coaching, not because I actively avoid it, but purely because where I coach it's extreamely unlikely to ever come up, so without going out of my way to find vulnerable adults to coach it's unlikely to happen, and I'm already busy enough without doing that! :-)

    As for children, having seen what happened to a fellow coach who did have an accusation made against him and was essentially hung out to dry until he was cleared, I'm now adament that I won't put myself in that position. He's now ended up leaving the sport entirely after receiving no support when he needed it, and being assumed to be guilty.

    It's important to be careful with these things of course, and protect children from harm, but I think if it's done without a proper level of balance we risk causing more harm to children when more and more people withdraw their willingness to work with them for fear of the possible consequences.

  26. Peter Fox

    Another factor makes it MORE skewed

    Many people have to get CRB checked many times over. If you work for more than one employer, for example as a freelance teacher then you can't say "I've been checked, here is my certificate". So this means that many of those 'OK' reports will be duplicates, whereas presumably the 'not-OK' will not get repeated.

  27. Guy Herbert

    Not even nearly what it seems

    @ Magnus

    "So, some sex offenders are foiled but at least the same number of innocent people are labelled as deviants for life and can't help out with their children's after school activities etc."

    Nope. Some "unsuitable people" are foiled. "Unsuitable" being in the eye of a would be employer, volunteer administrator, professional body or whatever, all of which are under pressure (not least from insurers and risk averse regulators) to be better-safe-than-sorry. You could, and in many cases would, be "unsuitable", therefore, if you've been officially suspected or accused (not the same thing) of something not strictly relevant, or if you have an irrelevant criminal conviction, or even if you have a minor criminal conviction that prior to the Glorious Revolution of Caringness would have been deemed spent, and you wouldn't have had to reveal to anyone.

    Result: Numerous highly skilled people lucky if they can find work as a hod-carrier (supermarket checkout involving contact with children, old-people and money).


  28. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    When I worked in Newcastle* as a contractor for BT I had to have a Disclosure check done as the contract agency was based in Edinburgh. I bet that kind of thing will have skewed the population proportionality figures.

    * For those southern shites who always seem to get it wrong; Newcastle sits North of Leeds but is still in England. In that area that usually seems to be disregarded when "The North" is considered to be Manchester.

  29. Guy

    Anybody and Everybody

    The requirements for them has now spread, anybody...yes anybody who works for a company that has contact with children or vulnerable adults can and will have disclosure checks made. From a recent story, Taxi and private hire firms are now starting to have difficulty getting drivers as they provide services for the cova. As a legal safeguard for companies they now have to dig the dirt on all employees and there are not enough people available to be able to interpret the reports that are returned. As an example if you committed a criminal act during the period of a nervous breakdown and have now completely recovered, your application may not even be considered, you don't know why and there is no redress. I would think that the amount of mis-interpretations will be a lot higher than 0.02%

  30. John Murgatroyd

    To crb, or not to crb

    It's nice and secure as well....have a look at who handles the info....the same mob that do the london con charge.

    And the security takes another step into the unknown:

    "Registered Bodies that provide access to the CRB service to other organisations are called Umbrella Bodies. For example, a large organisation that has registered with the CRB to check out its own staff and/or volunteers may decide to offer access to CRB checks to smaller organisations. Umbrella Bodies have the same responsibilities as Registered Bodies and must take reasonable steps to ensure that any organisation they are countersigning on behalf of also complies with the relevant responsibilities and obligations.

    Umbrella Bodies play an important role in the success of the CRB as they provide the mechanism by which many smaller organisations will access CRB checks."

    So, your employer may well be "doing" checks for others ?

    Like, Fred down the road ?

  31. Alan Swartz

    More often wrong than right????

    "More often wrong than right"

    0.02% ??? I guess I am having trouble understanding percentages!

  32. Tonto Popaduopolos

    Criminal Records

    @ martin whinnery -

    A very reasoned and sensible post. You must be new to The Register!

    @ A.C. 1313 hrs -

    Your comments regarding 'southern shites' cannot pass without comment, you Geordie twat!

    Of criminal records, I have to say, Gary Glitter's - 'What your Mama don't see (You Mama don't know)' has got to be right up there!

  33. Anteaus
    Thumb Down

    Where is the balance in this?

    For the sake of just two dead as Soham, literally MILLIONS of innocent people have been put through suffering and humiliation.

    That does not seem to be a positive outcome by anyone's standards. Even if another two paedophile murders were stopped -or even another two hundred, which is extremely unlikely since there simply aren't that many- that would not even begin to justfy the extent of the public suffering caused by the measures themselves.

    I suppose by the same standards, if we were to cut the hands off the entire UK population, that might eliminate burglary.

    Except that even so it is not a viable comparison, because burglary is a relatively common crime, whereas paedophile crime is extremely rare. So rare in fact that it would be difficult to compile any meaningful statistics about its occurrence.

    Violence and verbal abuse against children by their guardians are an infinitely greater problem, and have a far more damaging effect on young people, yet these are largely ignored. (and I speak from firsthand experience here, though I am sure I am not alone in this!)

  34. Alan Fisher
    Black Helicopters

    Train some chimps to do it....

    I used to work for the company who runs this and it amazes me that there aren't more mistakes.....Capita paid peanuts and employed anyone who could string a sentence together 10 years ago and I don't think they've changed......why farming something as important as this out to any company who wants to make money is beyond me.....

    I didn't have to go through any CRB checks back then but I did to join Samaritans as a volunteer....shouldn't THEY also be checked?

  35. Alan Fisher

    Quis Custodiet ipsos custodiens?

    never a truer set of dead language words....

    who watches the watchmen?

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