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Unholy row over Church vetting policy

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 28, 2013

By Tina Rowe

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A West cathedral flower arranger who quit when she was told to undergo criminal record checks has been shocked to discover that more than 58,000 people were vetted by the Church of England in the last year.

The Church has been accused of risking driving away vital volunteers through "over-zealous" checks.

The figures were revealed following a Freedom of Information Act request by the Manifesto Club, which campaigns against unnecessary regulation in everyday life.

Bell ringers, florists, tour guides and organists are among those asked to undergo the checks.

They are made via the Disclosure and Barring Service.

Annabel Hayter, and five other flower guild members at Gloucester Cathedral, quit their volunteer jobs in 2010 after being ordered to undergo checks.

She told the Daily Telegraph this week: "I had worked in that cathedral for 15 years – I'd had the clergy to dinner in my house – and I felt it was offensive to be told I'd have to go through a criminal records check. It is an imposition that just creates suspicion and changes people's perceptions of the Church."

She added: "A DBS check is only as good as the day it is done as has been proved time and time again.

"What is required is awareness and vigilance by everyone. A DBS check gives everyone a false feeling of security and people's guard is down."

The Church of England has ordered the checks before allowing people to work in parishes or take back-office roles. The FOI request revealed that more than 80 per cent of checks by individual dicoeses were on volunteers.

Many relate to adults working with children in Sunday schools and church crèches – which are a target of the Government's Disclosure and Barring Service.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said earlier this year that the Church was being "utterly ruthless" in its approach to criminal record checks even though cases of abuse are "negligible".

The Archbishop said that volunteers refusing checks will be told: "You can't come to church."

The Manifesto Club, and some other people, say the blanket checks "breed suspicion and make long-time volunteers feel that they are not welcome" while also breeding a false sense of security.

The Coalition pledged to scale back Labour's "vetting and barring scheme" – introduced in the wake of the murders of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002 – because of concerns the process had spiralled out of control.

As part of the new service founded in late 2012, only those in sensitive posts with intensive contact with children or vulnerable adults need to undergo criminal record checks.

The Manifesto Club campaigns against the regulation of everyday life. Its director, Josie Appleton, said: "There is simply no need to vet volunteers before they arrange flowers or welcome visitors at the church door. Blanket criminal record checks breed suspicion and make long-time volunteers feel that they are not welcome.

"What happened to the Christian values of good will and good faith? General vigilance and adult responsibility would do far more to protect children."

The Church of England has insisted it would "make no apology for taking action to ensure our systems our as robust as possible".

In a letter to the Archbishop, Lord Vinson, the Conservative peer, said criminal records checks "are not necessary on volunteers… who do not have an intensive relationship with children and whose contact is minimal".

A Church of England spokesman said: "The Church of England does not tolerate any act of sexual abuse, and rigorously investigates any claims made.

"At the meeting of its General Synod in July the Church issued a public apology for past safeguarding wrongs and pledged to further tighten its procedures, working closely with survivor groups.

"New legislative proposals will be considered by the Synod in February."

He added: "There is no room for complacency on this issue and we make no apology for taking action to ensure our systems our as robust as possible."

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