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Council backs down on CRB checking grown-up lecturers

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Caerphilly County Borough Council has today backed down from its demands that performers and authors be CRB-checked before getting on stage in front of a grown-up audience.

The climbdown after a phone call from El Reg asking exactly how much protection an audience of grownups interested in Medieval murder mysteries really needed.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office confirms that this was a step too far – and that not even the present administration would expect CRB-checking or "vetting" of individuals to take place in such circumstances.

That is a very rapid turn-around from yesterday, when it looked as though the citizens of Caerphilly would not be hearing a lecture by prize-winning author of Medieval whodunnits, Michael Jecks and former Home Office pathologist, Bernard Knight, due to take place at Caerphilly Castle in May.

Both individuals pulled out after being informed by the Caerphilly Library Service, who were organising their talk, that "we need to comply with Personnel advice on CRB checks and therefore all Performers/Authors/Demonstrators that we use, whether for child or adult audiences, will be required to have a valid CRB check in place.

"Whilst I understand it 'does seem rather over the top,' I'm afraid we have to abide by Corporate Policy. Local Authorities around the country are becoming much stricter in this area and you may find, in the future, more are coming back to you asking if a valid CRB is in place."

They later added: "Unfortunately, the Corporate guidelines have been set in place for a reason."

Michael Jecks was, not surprisingly, unamused, and wrote back: "They (CRB checks) are possibly relevant at events in which authors are likely to meet children, and where they are potentially going to be left alone with the children. For adult events of the kind Medieval Murderers provide, they are pointless, wasteful of time and money, and an insult to the authors you wish to invite to speak.

"It truly is ridiculous that such checks should prevent authors from speaking to the public, and since my next book is to have a great deal about Caerphilly castle itself, it is even more saddening."

As of yesterday, it seemed likely that what should have been an interesting discussion on a relevant topic was not going to take place.

This morning all changed, as the Council responded to The Register with a fulsome apology. A spokesman for Caerphilly County Borough Council said: "We would like to offer our unreserved apologies to these well respected authors. The policy regarding CRB checks is intended for children's entertainers and similar performers who work closely with young people and other vulnerable groups at council-run events.

"There has obviously been a misunderstanding in this instance and it is clear that this policy should never have been applied to Mr Knight and Mr Jecks. We will contact the authors to fully explain the situation and hopefully we can encourage them to reconsider their attendance at the forthcoming event at Caerphilly Castle. In light of this incident we are reviewing our policy and how we apply it in these circumstances in the future."

The Home Office also responded, in a manner suggesting it was most unamused with Caerphilly - and a big stick has possibly been waved. Their spokeswoman told us: "We continue to monitor performance of registered bodies closely, and if it comes to the attention of the CRB that an organisation is requesting inappropriate CRB checks, we will contact the organisation and request that these stop.

"Where errors occur we will provide further training, and from April this year, we will be providing innovative training to all new Registered Bodies and Coutersignatories that have been accepted since January 2010.

"Ultimately, if a Registered Body continues to request such checks, the CRB can impose sanctions on them including suspending their registration, or even deregistration." ®

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