'Arrests will make it harder for victims of false accusations'

As Soham tries to come to terms with the double murder, Joe Clancy reports on preparations for a new term in the town

TEACHERS who are victims of malicious allegations of abuse will find it more difficult to get jobs following the Soham murder inquiry, a union leader has warned.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the killings will increase the pressure on heads to fully probe the background of all staff they hire.

This will mean collecting "soft information" which may include details of allegations that have been rejected, in addition to "hard information" about convictions and those placed on registers.

Last year the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers instructed solicitors on behalf of 94 members who were victims of malicious or exaggerated allegations of child abuse.

Union records reveal that during the previous 10 years, nearly 1,000 members faced a police investigation into physical or sexual abuse. There were just 52 convictions.

Mr Hart said: "There will be an enormous demand from parents, governors and everybody else to ensure that no stone is left unturned and that people who have any suspicion hanging over them are not employed.

"There has to be a balance between the current system and the right of the individuals who have been cleared of allegations to have a fair crack of the whip when it comes to job opportunities."

The NAHT took one case to court of a member on the receiving end of soft information that made it difficult for him to get a job, which it lost.

The Government attempted to tighten up checks on people working with children by setting up a new Criminal Records Bureau, but it has been in chaos since it began in March. A huge backlog built up almost immediately and work is still being sent to a data-inputting company in Madras, India.

Teachers seeking clearance have to provide birth and marriage certificates, passports, details of addresses held over five years and, in some cases, bank statements.

But in May, the Government was forced to put the system of checks for temporary teachers on hold, following repeated complaints from recruitment agencies about delays.

A fast-track system has now been introduced allowing teachers to be employed once a check on the Department for Education and Skills List 99 has been done. The full check is carried out later.

Teaching assistants and caretakers fear they will face suspicion and hostility when they return to their schools next term.

One assistant posted this message on the TES website: "I am a little concerned about how parents may view me and my job when I go back to school. The Holly and Jessica case is horrific."

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