Bichard Inquiry

The Bichard Inquiry into the events surrounding the deaths of
Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, who were killed by Ian Huntley,
ended earlier this month.

Weaknesses were found in the vetting of Huntley’s references;
failures in keeping data about his offences and allegations of
sexual abuse about him; and problems in information sharing between
police, social services and other agencies.

Home secretary David Blunkett said there would be changes to the
system of vetting all people who work with children.

This will almost certainly mean changes in the way the Criminal
Records Bureau works, after Bichard requested it to take urgent
action to improve checks on job applications.

Information commissioner Richard Thomas also admitted there were
flaws in the vetting procedures, which meant “those who
shouldn’t get through can”.

Last week, Vince Gaskell, chief executive of the CRB, said there
was nothing in its guidance to registered bodies that explained
they must check addresses provided by applicants. While a new
system is being piloted in three police force areas, he said the
system needed to be tightened up urgently.

Bichard said he wanted to reconvene the inquiry it six months after
his report is published to check his proposals were being
implemented. The report is expected in May.

The Department of Constitutional Affairs and the information
commissioner have also expressed concerns that public bodies are
being over-cautious in their interpretation of the Data Protection
Act 1998.

Information commissioner Richard Thomas told the Bichard Inquiry
there was a perception of a “mystique” about data
protection  and added that “we have to work hard to dispel
the myths”.

Thomas said the act did not prevent individual items of information
being kept on file for some time in order to see a pattern

“Retention is a black and white issue. If you can no longer
justify the retention then at that point it should no longer be

He accepted there might be scope to keep sexual allegations on
record longer than others, with the reliability of the source and
quality of the information being key to decisions.

The DCA’s head of information rights Paul Boyle told a
conference last month that the act allowed data sharing as long as
actions were carried out in the public interest and decisions took
human rights and common law into account.

“There is a mass of issues around data sharing –
including organisational and cultural barriers – and
professionals try and put it down to the act,” Boyle said.
“Anything to do with personal data will tend to be referred
to lawyers and understandably they will err on the side of

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