TEACHER Stephen Lee is considering legal action against the Criminal Records Bureau after it falsely accused him of having a prison record and convictions for 40 crimes.
The 45-year-old Middlesbrough supply teacher has a clean record, and is angry that he missed out on months of potential work. "It was very frustrating," he said. "I spent ages on the telephone, being passed from one person to another when I could have been teaching."
The former engineer lodged a complaint with the bureau five months ago pointing out its error, but a letter acknowledging the mix-up only arrived last week .
Last September, Mr Lee was shocked to be told that he could not start supply teaching because his criminal record listed 40 offences, including grievous bodily harm and drink-driving.
"I thought fixing it would be simple because I was working in Norway when some of the crimes happened and because the disclosure did not include my middle name," he said.
"Instead they told me that their computer was never wrong."
Fortunately, Mr Lee was able to persuade Middlesbrough College that the bureau had made a mistake and began teaching key skills and information and computer technology classes in November.
The mix-up is the latest in a series of problems at the beleaguered CRB, which has been heavily criticised after delays in vetting staff.
The TES revealed last year that a former head was mistakenly accused of abusing his step-daughter after his record was mixed up with another man of the same name. West Midlands police paid pound;2,500 in compensation.
Other complaints include the CRB losing teachers' driving licences and other documents. And the BBC this week reported that it was often taking more than six months for police to update data about convictions on the Police National Computer, making CRB data out-of-date.
Supply agencies say that the bureau's service is improving. However, Select said it still had 430 staff who had been waiting more than six months to receive clearance.
The CRB has agreed to offer compensation in cases where it can be proved it has made a mistake. A Home Office spokesman said that mistakes with records were extremely rare but that human error was understandable because the bureau had processed more than a million applications in the past year.
He added that the CRB was taking an average of just under five weeks to process teachers, and recognised it needed more work to reach its target of three weeks.
Trouble-shooters sent into the bureau by Home Secretary David Blunkett are expected to publish a report on its problems within the next two months.
The Audit Commission will publish a further report later in the year.