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INNOCENTS ACCUSED; Hundreds are falsely branded as criminals.

Byline: BY ANUJI VARMA

A GOVERNMENT agency set up to protect children branded hundreds of innocent people criminals in the last year.

Three million applicants bidding for jobs in teaching, nursing, child-minding and volunteer work underwent checks with the Criminal Records Bureau.

But a staggering 680 were falsely accused of having committed offences. They will now have to go through an appeals process to clear their names.

The news comes as ministers prepare to INCREASE the number of criminal record checks carried out on the public.

The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) was established to vet people working with children.

But the number of checks undertaken annually has doubled from 1.5 million five years ago to almost three million last year.

The Sunday Mercury previously told how student nurse Kerry Woolley was sacked by the University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust after being wrongly branded a mugger by the CRB.

But Kerry, 24, of Kings Norton, Birmingham, had in fact been mixed up with another woman of the same name and similar date of birth.

The CRB, which vets all staff starting new jobs working with children and other vulnerable groups such as hospital patients, eventually admitted the mistake.

But that came too late for Kerry who was fired for alleged gross misconduct for speaking out. The CRB has been also plagued by delays and mistakes.

Fury recently erupted when 50,000 applications requiring "enhanced checks" had to wait more than two months to be processed.

It also emerged the CRB's 450-strong staff claimed more than 5,000 sick days last year, working out at around two weeks per person.

David Rufey, a Shadow Home Office minister, said the mistakes were evidence of an "emerging crisis" of public confidence in the handling of public information.

He added: "Jacqui Smith (the Home Secretary) is responsible for this continuing incompetence, mismanagement and delay. Despite obvious public concern she seems incapable of getting a grip."

A Criminal Records Bureau spokesperson said: "Our first priority is to help protect children and vulnerable adults, and we will always err on the side of caution to help ensure the safety of these groups.

"Since 2004 the CRB has stopped 80,000 unsuitable people working with vulnerable groups with a disclosure accuracy of 99.98 per cent. The CRB is acknowledged as an improvement on previous checking arrangement, although checks which do not correctly reveal a person's true criminal record are still clearly regrettable - even if they do represent a tiny proportion of all CRB checks."

anujivarma@mrn.co.uk

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WRONGLY ACCUSED: nurse Kerry Woolley
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jul 6, 2008
Words:430
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