I head up an information and advice line for a small network of youth groups in England and Wales and often hear from young people who are facing problems as a result of the ongoing effects of their criminal record. I recently dealt with a particularly tragic case and thought that it was important to share the details.
Ann (not her real name) was a decent, lively young lady who always wanted to work with children. After leaving school she went to university, got her degree and set about getting herself a job. Very quickly she found something that she thought was very interesting with good prospects for promotion and which involved working with children in care.
She got the job and was told that she would need an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check. She was told that strictly speaking her employers should be in receipt of it before she began work but ‘because she was a woman’ she could start the following week providing she applied for her criminal record check immediately.
Several weeks later her DBS certificate arrived and on it, disclosed under the ‘additional information’ section was her Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) for a public order offence. Ann had received this whilst she was at university and on a night out with three of her fellow students. On their way home, they were all pretty merry but certainly not drunk or disorderly. As they approached the city centre they passed two men who started looking them up and down and seemed to be ‘sizing them up’. Both men were dressed in black trousers, jackets and black baseball caps and Ann had a strange feeling that they might be undercover police officers so jokingly as she walked past them, she made a pig-like noise.
Unfortunately, her instincts were absolutely right, they were indeed police officers. One of them grabbed Ann’s arm and told her that she had committed a public order offence by ‘making a pig-like noise in the vicinity of a police officer.’ They told her that if she accepted a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) and a fine she would avoid having to go to court. Believing that this was her best option, Ann accepted the PND.
Ann thought that was the end of the matter but of course as her enhanced DBS certificate was to show it most certainly was not. When she took the document to her employer, they told her that she’d acted dishonestly in not disclosing the PND and she was instantly dismissed. Ann was absolutely shattered and spent the following week shut away in her bedroom. Working with children was all she’d ever wanted to do and it seemed to Ann that as a result of a silly mistake, her dreams would come to nothing. She hadn’t been deliberately dishonest, she just hadn’t realised that this would show up on her DBS certificate.
Two weeks later she took her own life.
The coroner was aware of the full facts of the case but Ann’s parents asked that the information about her police record not be published in the press as it would bring disgrace on their deceased daughter and their ‘upstanding family’. Their wishes were respected but this means that the public will never know of the outrageous happenings that caused Ann to lose her job and in turn take her own life.
Ann died a tragic death because she made a pig-like noise. Her punishment was no mere slap on the wrist; it was a death sentence.
By Rev. Geoffrey Squire
A comment from Unlock
We hear from many young people who have accepted PND’s, cautions etc without having the ongoing affects fully explained to them by the police. Many don’t realise that it may have an impact on their job prospects in the future and, as we have seen from Ann’s story, have tragic consequences.
Anything disclosed by the police as ‘additional information’ needs to be deemed relevant and proportionate to the job that an applicant is applying for and since 2012, when statutory disclosure guidance was introduced we’ve seen a significant decrease in the amount of ‘additional information’ being disclosed. If you think that the police are likely to disclose additional information on an enhanced check then we would always recommend that you contact the police force involved and ask them to give you the opportunity to appeal against it’s disclosure.
Ann’s case once again demonstrates how risk averse some employers can be and don’t always take the time to properly assess an individual’s criminal record. They will often make assumptions about a person without finding out more about the circumstances surrounding a situation. We will continue to work with both employers and government to ensure that employers have fair and inclusive policies and procedures that support the recruitment of people with convictions.
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