Grooming offence could leave care professionals open to abuse charges

Senior legal and political figures are concerned the government’s
Sexual Offences Bill could increase the number of abuse allegations
made against care professionals.

The bill, currently being debated in the House of Lords and set to
become 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 term.

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 abuse if allegations are made, placing
care workers at greater risk of having charges brought against

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 would 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,” Curtis-Thomas added.

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 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.

Gill Rutherford, a solicitor at Newcastle practice Thompsons who
has represented care professionals in abuse cases, said she was
concerned that the bill could increase the number of people wrongly
convicted for child abuse.

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