Even before the Dunblane primary school killing, voluntary groups in Scotland were concerned that there were no statutory police checks to stop paedophiles targeting youth groups. Conchita Pinto reports.

In the wake of the Dunblane shooting, the Scottish Office has been called on to close a gap in vetting procedures for people working with children in voluntary and private organisations. Local authority youth workers are already obliged to submit to police checks for previous convictions involving children, but no mandatory safeguards apply in the voluntary sector.

Scottish charities have been pushing for police checks for some time after concerns surfaced that this apparent legal loophole could put paedophiles in direct contact with children. Although the Dunblane killer did not have any convictions for child-related offences, he had long been suspected of ‘inappropriate behaviour' while running youth groups, and the tragedy has brought this issue to the fore.

‘This issue has been of enormous concern for our members both in childcare and those working with other vulnerable groups.’ said a spokeswoman for the Scottish Council For Voluntary Organisations, which is pressing the Scottish Office to consider tightening up regulations. ‘There are anomalies between the statutory sector and the volunteer sector, so that a social work department playscheme would require police checks but a voluntary one would not.’

in a recent letter to SCVO, Scottish Office minister Lord James Douglas Hamilton stated that he believed new legislation would be needed to extend police checks to all childcare and youth workers. SCVO believes the introduction of such legislation would have widespread support among its members.

‘The events in Dunblane have highlighted what we have always said about the importance of having the best possible vetting procedures in place.‘ said Kathleen White of the Volunteer Tutors Organisation, which trains volunteers to work with children.

VTO reached an agreement between Chief Constables and social work departments in Scotland to enable police checks to be carried out, but it is under no statutory obligation to do so.

‘At VTO we place enormous emphasis on monitoring suitability through maintaining regular personal contact with everyone involved,‘ White said. ‘All our voluntwrs understand the need for police checks and are more than happy to co-operate.’

Harriet Edie of the Edinburgh Voluntary Exchange added: ‘We have been saying that checks should be available on a more cohesive basis.’

Dunblane tragedy: police to extend youth wrker checks

, related criminal records is only one part ' ' ofthejigsaw. The public inquiry into the Dunblane killings headed by Lord Cullen will look at other lessons that can be learned from the tragedy.

The inquiry may consider a national register of youth workers which would enable complaints about an individual’s behaviour to stay on record, even if there was no conviction. The possibilty of setting up a national paedophile register is expected to be discussed by the Scottish Police Federation next month.

‘We don’t want to make knee-jerk reactions at this stage, and these issues will be considered further at the inquiry,‘ said a Scottish Office spokesman. He added the Data Protection Act could present a stumbling block to any attempts to set up such databases.

The Scottish Criminal Records Office is currently consulting with the Scottish Office and social work departments over the possibility of setting up an umbrella organisation responsible for collating a list ofbmmfrde voluntary groups whose volunteers will be subjected to police checks.

‘A balance must be struck between concern for civil liberties and protecting vulnerable people,‘ said Chief Superintendent Hugh Ferry ofthe criminal records department. At present information about previous convictions can only be obtained with written consent from the individual.

The Scottish Council For Civil Liberities has argued that digging up past convictions can be an infringement of civil liberties, but accepts the crimes involving children should be seen as a special case where police checks are jUstified.



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Unbearable grief: the heartfelt tributes to the dead children from Dunblane primary school

Leading children‘s charities Bamardos and National Children‘s Homes have both reached voluntary agreements with the police to screen all its staff and volunteers.

‘lt’s important to thoroughly check anyone working with children and police checks are an important part of that.‘ said a Barnardos spokeswoman.

Before Dunblane. Scottish secretary Michael Forsth had made £100,000 available to increase the number of organisations that made individual arrangements with police forces to conduct checks. So-called ‘primary legislation‘ would be needed to extend vetting to all voluntary bodies.

Screening out people with child-

‘Everyone feels so dreadfully sorry . . . but there is absolutely nothing we can do to make it better’

friend, but there is absolutely nothing we can do to make it better.

People are reacting in different ways. Some are bright and breezy, putting on a brave face, coping. Some are openly tearful, others are silent and withdrawn. The town is very quiet. The only people on the streets are journalists.

Speaking for myself, what I feel is not so much grief or anger, but despair, incomprehenslon, bewilderment. I’m only on the periphery, but I’m not really interested in tightening up school security. I don’t want to know why Hamilton did what he did, because if we ever do find out it won’t make sense. I do wonder why people want to have guns, and why they should be allowed to have them in their homes, but I know there’s no answer to why they should want to murder tiny children.

There’s nothing I can say to round this piece off neatly. lane of it makes sense - it’s too awful to contemplate but you can’t help thinking about it. It is the worst thing that has ever happened.

Writer and journalist lain Grant lives in Dunblane and was working from home on the morning of Wednesday 13 March; this is his personal response to the tragic events which unfolded that day.

I was buying bread on the Iiigh Street when Thomas Watt Hamilton murdered those children. Katie didn’t have change for my £20 so she said I could pay her next time I was in the shop. Outside in the street I met the girl who used to live next door, and we talked about what she was doing now and the sudden deep cold of the last couple of days, and how we’d both thought until that morning that the snow had gone for the year.

I was only away for a few minutes - I hadn’t bothered to turn my computer screen off. I heard sirens as I sat back down to work. Maybe half an hour later a friend rang to make sure I was alright. There had been a shooting In Dunblane. That was the first I knew about it.

I was puzzled. Details were sketchy, so I went downstairs to read the

teletext report, maybe an hour after it had happened. I couldn’t quite believe what it said, but the phone rang again, then again, and I heard it on the radio so I knew it was real. I still couldn’t believe that someone could do such a thing, but I knew that it had happened and I couldn’t stop my eyes filling with tears.

I don’t have children. I don’t know Gwenne Mayor, the primary teacher who died with sixteen members of her class. I’m on the periphery of this thing, but everyone in Dunblane knows someone who lost someone. That’s the sort of place Dunblane is; that’s the sort of thing that the people who live here love about it. Everyone in Dunblane knew Thomas Ilamilton, or had seen him around. Everyone feels so dreadfully sorry for those people who lost a child or a mother or a

4 The List 22 Mar-4 Apr 1996