Soham officer attacks vetting scheme

By stafff

The officer in charge of the Soham murder case has attacked the government’s proposed vetting system as a step too far.

The comments come as children’s secretary Ed Balls was forced to launch an unexpected review of the system, in a sign the government is concerned at the level of anger and exasperation the new procedures have triggered.

Writing in The Times today, Retired detective chief superintendent Chris Stevenson said: “The furore that has gripped the nation since [Soham] has made us all paranoid. Is it in the interests of children?

“Commentators keep referring back to Huntley and the events in Soham, citing this as the cause. I am sure Sir Michael Bichard did not intend this wave of recrimination over one case.”
The murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002 prompted nationwide concern and outrage, and resulted in a series of laws designed to protect children.

But even Mr Balls appears concerned at this latest system. He said yesterday he would check that the “right balance” had been struck, including if all 11 million people mentioned so far really need to register and have their criminal records checked.

Mr Stevenson said his nervousness over the system was prompted by an incident recently in which he had been asked to stop taking photos of his grandson during a football game.

“I felt humbled. I am now a suspected paedophile. Along, I suspect, with millions of other parents and grandparents,” he wrote.

“I looked at the pictures I had taken. They were of my grandson making several saves as his team were under pressure. I am sure he would have liked to look back on them in the future. I deleted the photographs, never to reach my computer screen.

“I suppose there was an element of embarrassment. It just never crossed my mind that you were not allowed to take pictures and it was contrary to the regulations. This was not what Bichard wanted; it’s an overreaction to the situation. I just said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset anybody’.”

Commenting on the Soham case, Mr Stevenson pointed out that Ian Huntley did not come into contact with the girls through his role as a caretaker, but as partner to one of their teachers.
“How do we prevent such chance encounters happening? You can’t. No amount of legislation, record keeping or checking can ever totally prevent this type of crime. Thankfully they are extremely rare,” he said.

“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.”