Are we on right track to safety?

"THE belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness." The murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman bears out the truth of Joseph Conrad's bleak assessment of human nature.

However, we must try to banish the fog of depression generated by this unique tragedy and consider how we can make our children even safer in future. Though ostensibly on holiday, primary headteachers will be planning delicately-balanced, back-to-school assemblies that will remind youngsters of life's dangers without leaving them panic-stricken. Teachers will also be reviewing their advice about "stranger danger". Does it cover all eventualities?

But most attention will focus on the Criminal Records Bureau, irrespective of the outcome of the murder case. This new agency was welcomed by the profession when it opened in March because it promised speedy vetting of all school staff and governors. Unfortunately, from the outset it was evident that the CRB was swamped by its workload, and unacceptable delays have built up. Ludicrously, it even has to farm out some data-inputting to a company in India.

Because of the delays, a fast-track procedure has been introduced which allows teachers to be employed once a check has been made against List 99, which contains the names of child sex offenders. A full check for any other convictions is made later.

Clearly, this fast-tracking cannot continue. The risks are too great, as the recruitment agency, TimePlan, has argued. TimePlan may also be right in asserting that a "passport-style" identity card system will prove to be the best option. But extra resources should first be pumped into the CRB to see whether it can provide the desired service when adequately staffed. A number of complex moral and legal questions will also have to be addressed. One of the hardest is whether even unfounded allegations of child abuse should be dragged up every time someone seeks a new post. But given sufficient determination, and money, a better vetting system can be achieved. That would be a more fitting tribute to Holly and Jessica than any marble memorial.

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