The new CRB check nanny state paranoia won’t stop another Soham
In 2002 I was a senior detective with Cambridgeshire police. That August two ten year old girls disappeared, and I took over the investigation. Two days later I set up the surveillance operation that led to the arrest of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr a few hours later.
Huntley has not been a free man since. He was convicted of the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in December 2003.
Last weekend my actions came back to haunt me. My wife and I went to Benson, Oxfordshire, to celebrate the birthday of my nine-year-old grandson. We went off to see him play as goalkeeper for his village under-10s football team. Mum and dad, sisters, uncles and both grandparents were there to cheer him on.
One of my hobbies is photography, so I took my camera to take a few “action shots” of my grandson. Ten minutes later I was approached by the manager, who said: “Can I ask you not to take photographs, it’s against the regulations. You have to get permission in writing from every parent of every child.”
I felt humbled. I am now a suspected paedophile — along, I fear, with millions of other parents and grandparents.
The furore that has gripped the nation since the Soham murders has made us all paranoid. Is this in children’s interests? The latest “regulations” will require us to be checked by the Criminal Records Bureau if we give lifts to children going to Scouts or similar activities.
Commentators constantly refer to Huntley and the events in Soham as the reason for this. I am sure Sir Michael Bichard, who chaired the inquiry into the murders, did not intend such a wave of recrimination over one case. Yes, changes were necessary: Huntley lived a charmed life in Humberside, where he was investigated for a number of crimes. He was charged with rape, but after he spent a week in custody the case was dropped for lack of evidence.
As a result of poor intelligence, Huntley was appointed a school caretaker in Soham. Did that give him access to children? Yes, hundreds. Did he abuse them? No. In fact he reported to the headteacher that several teenage girls had made inappropriate comments.
The girls were sorry when Carr was not given a permanent job. This was what led them to Huntley.
Out for a ramble around Soham on the Sunday evening, they stopped outside Huntley and Carr’s house to ask after Carr. Huntley told the media that they were sorry she hadn’t got the job.
Tragically, she was away, visiting her family in Grimsby. It was the first time they had been apart overnight since their relationship started. Huntley was in a bad mood as Carr had told him she was going to her second party in successive nights. He was alone. Somehow he conned the girls into the house and they were never seen alive again.
Did he achieve this because he was a caretaker? He could have been in any occupation, lorry driver, architect, anything, and lived with a woman that the two girls knew and trusted. And were right to, as I am convinced that Carr would never have done anything to hurt them.
How do we prevent such chance encounters happening? We can’t. No amount of legislation, record keeping or checking could prevent this type of crime completely. Thankfully it is extremely rare. Children are far more likely to be killed by a family member or on the roads.
Only recently a young girl was murdered by her mother’s partner. There is a suggestion that she had been sexually abused. He then hanged himself. The girl’s mother described him as loving, caring and the last person she would expect to do anything like that. We await the inquest, when it will be asked if the killings could have been prevented. I doubt that the answer will be yes.
We are subjecting our whole community to paranoia. On Friday a BBC journalist announced on breakfast television that “a million children are being abused”.
Where do these figures come from? How do we know? Are we feeding the paranoia that stops a grandfather taking a picture of his nine-year-old grandson playing football? Surely this cannot continue. Someone needs to put things back on an even keel.
Chris Stevenson is a retired detective chief superintendent