Innocent people branded criminals jumps 20 per cent

The number of innocent people wrong branded criminal by the Coalition has increased by 20 per cent, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Telegraph | Jul 12, 2012

By Christopher Hope

The annual report from the Criminal Records Bureau shows 204 innocent people were wrongly given a criminal record last year.

It is a 19 per cent increase on 172 innocents who were given a record the year before. In many of the cases people were given someone else’s record.

Many of the innocent victims of the mistakes would have been intending to take up jobs as teachers, nurses and child minders, or become youth volunteers.

Keith Vaz MP, the chairman of the Home Affairs committee, said: “I am very concerned at the number of mistakes that have been made by the CRB about the reputations of those people wrongly ascribed convictions.

“We need to look at this system more carefully so it is robust and accurate and we need a full explanation of how this happened.”

The increase comes despite pledges by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Opposition to deal with the problem.

The CRB vets anybody who wants to work with children or vulnerable adults. The mistakes were among 4.07million checks processed last year while the Coalition was in charge of the CRB.

The CRB said that 99.995 per cent of its certificates were free from error – which means that 204 people were the victim of its mistakes.

Most are when someone was wrongly given another person’s conviction details because of a mix–up on a computer system.

Despite the poor record, Steve Long, the CRB’s chief executive, received a bonus of up to £5,000 taking his annual pay to up to £90,000.

The CRB’s annual report and accounts, which were printed and published on Thursday, also disclosed that the agency paid out £380,000 in 2011/12 to people complaining about delays with checks and “maladministration”.

The CRB said in its annual report that accuracy was a “top priority”, adding: “We appreciate that there is always room for improvement in this area.

“We will always aim to achieve 100 per cent throughout our end-to-end process. We recognise however that we are not always in control of the quality of the data held by the data sources that we check.

“We aim to manage customer expectations in this respect and have ensured that the dispute process is effectively managed to help our customers.”

Earlier this year a Home Office minister admitted that mistakes by the CRB were having a “devastating” impact on the lives of innocent people. Lynne Featherstone told Labour MP Madeleine Moon in a letter that the mistakes “can be devastating”.

The Daily Telegraph has repeatedly highlighted the issue over a number of years.

When the problems emerged in 2009, Damian Green, who is now a Conservative Home Office minister, said: “The CRB should be as vigilant in not hounding the innocent as they are in exposing the potentially dangerous.”

Chris Huhne, the former Energy secretary who was then the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, also said it was “just as unfair to label someone as criminal if they are innocent as it is to let an offender slip through the net”.

A CRB spokesman said: “The CRB carried out over four million checks in the last year and in a minuscule percentage of cases (0.005%) incorrect details were disclosed.

“CRB has a robust process in place to allow individuals to dispute the contents of their CRB check. From next year, criminal record certificates will only be issued to the applicant so they can challenge information before it is shown to a future employer.

“We understand the distress that incorrect information can cause and occasionally make consolatory awards to customers in recognition of this.”

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