Senior legal and political figures are concerned the
government’s Sexual Offences Bill could increase the number of
abuse allegations made against care professionals,
writes Derren Hayes.
The bill, currently being debated in the House of Lords with a
view to it becoming law by the end of the year, introduces a new
offence of grooming, where paedophiles gain the trust of children
with the aim of abusing them. It carries a five-year prison
However, lawyers and MPs are concerned this could mean charges
are brought for perceived intent rather than actions. They also
argue that anyone who has more than one encounter with a child
could be viewed as grooming them for possible abuse if allegations
are made, placing care workers at greater risk of having charges
brought against them.
The All Party Group for Abuse Investigations has looked at the
implications of the bill and its chairperson, Claire Curtis-Thomas,
plans to table amendments to it when it returns to the House of
Commons for debate next month.
The Labour MP said the bill will make it easier for police to
secure arrests, and warned that consequently care professionals
should have “deep reservations” about their positions.
“This group is unprotected and very vulnerable to these
allegations and they will be for the rest of their lives,”
She advised care professionals working with children to refuse
to have one-on-one contact because of the difficulties in
disproving allegations without witnesses.
Margaret Jervis, legal affairs adviser at the British False
Memory Society, said there was a danger the legislation could
“demonise innocent contact”.
“It could mean that good quality contact between adults and
children is seen as a dangerous activity. It will persuade people
against going into the profession,” she warned.