Innocent people could have lives wrecked by 'Big Brother' vetting checks
Quote:Workers judged to be lonely and to have a chaotic home life could be barred from working with vulnerable people, even though there is no evidence that they pose a risk, according to guidelines from the Government's new vetting agency.
Decisions about staff will be taken by officials who have never met them, based on details passed on by their employers.
Experts claimed that the "Big Brother" approach meant innocent people could have their careers wrecked on the basis of cruel rumours or ill-informed moral judgements.
The row is the latest controversy to hit the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which was set up to vet millions of people working with vulnerable people.
The Government announced a watering down of the scheme in December in the wake of a public outcry over plans to force adults who give other children lifts to clubs and sports events to undergo criminal records checks and register with the ISA.
Since October, employers have been under a legal duty to refer staff to ISA for assessment if children or vulnerable adults who they work with are considered to have been harmed or put in danger.
Controversially, managers have also been told to pass on names of staff they have prevented from working with vulnerable people for fear they could "pose a future risk" - even though no incident has occurred.
Guidance seen by The Sunday Telegraph, which has been given to more than 100 case workers at the ISA reveals that those referred could be permanently blocked from work if aspects of their home life or attitudes are judged to be unsatisfactory.
It says case workers should be "minded to bar" cases referred to them if they feel "definite concerns" about at least two aspects of their life, which are specified in the document.
It means, for example, that if a teaching assistant was believed to be "unable to sustain emotionally intimate relationships" and also had a "chaotic, unstable lifestyle" they could be barred from ever working with children.
If a nurse was judged to suffer from "severe emotional loneliness" and believed to have "poor coping skills" their career could also be ended.
ISA's case workers, who have no minimum qualification or experience, make their decision about whether someone should be barred from working with children or vulnerable adults without ever seeing the person.
They are expected to establish the person's relationship history and emotional state based on the file passed on by their employer.
Psychologists, professional regulators and health and teaching unions last night expressed horror over the guidance.
Harry Cayton, chief executive of the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, which oversees Britain's nine health regulators, said: "My concern is that judgements are being made not on the basis of facts but on opinion and third party perceptions."
Dr Mike Berry, a leading forensic psychologist, described the system as "incredibly dangerous" and open to error.
The expert in criminal profiling said: "These tests are so subjective; plenty of people are lonely, while others have what some might call a chaotic lifestyle. It depends who is judging."
Dr Berry, a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University added: "This tool is based on a stereotype of paedophilia, based on social inadequacy, but there are plenty of people who are quite self-contained, a bit of a computer nerd, and perhaps a bit isolated who present no danger to society. Meanwhile Rose West would pass this test with flying colours."
He said the dangers in the scheme were compounded by the fact case workers had no direct contact with the person they assessed.
"I think it is a major problem that the person making this decision is so distant from the case, and to the consequences of what they are doing.
"They are essentially sitting in a call centre, following an automated system, and dependent on information from third parties. That in itself is very worrying," said Dr Berry.
Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said: "This Government is creating a society where everyone is treated as guilty unless they are proved to be innocent.
"These changes contravene any principles of natural justice and will destroy the lives of decent innocent people. Gordon Brown is creating Government by "thought police"."
Gail Adams, head of nursing at Unison, said: "We are concerned that it is a paper process, that it is subjective.
"Of course we want to protect children and vulnerable adults, but you have got to get the balance right. This is more like Big Brother."
Amanda Brown from the National Union of Teachers said the union was "extremely worried" about the operation of the system.
Adrian McAllister chief executive of ISA said no one would be barred purely on the basis of their lifestyle or attitude, given that all referrals had to identify either harm done, or a "future risk of harm".
He said: "One of the understandable concerns we have heard from people is that they could be barred for private interests like pornography, or liking a drink. That isn't the case.
"We only look at these risk factors if relevant conduct [actual harm] or a risk of harm has been identified."
Mr McAllister said he expected the "vast majority" of its cases to involve incidents where actual risk or harm has occurred, based on evidence such as a police caution, "rather than cases based on a feeling or suspicion".
The organisation was unable to explain the reasoning behind its instruction to staff that definite concerns in two areas should be sufficient to be "minded to bar" staff.
It would only say that the protocol follows advice from a forensic psychologist.
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