steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Mayne Lines

I caught a discussion on the plan to scale back Criminal Record Bureau checks on the Today programme this morning (it's about 90 minutes in), and rather took against the man who was defending the current system, Mark Williams-Thomas. My problem was with the curious leap in logic he made when he said, first, that paedophiles are devious and calculating people (actually he said "deviant and calculated", but that's what he meant) who will seek out opportunities to abuse children - and, as if to illustrate his point, cited the example of children's authors, and particularly of William Mayne, convicted in 2004 for sex attacks on young girls - which, Williams-Thomas implied, took place in the context of visits to schools. In fact, Mayne's abuse took place in his own home rather than on school visits, where CRB checks might have been an issue. For the sake of argument, though, let's say that he indeed met at least some of his victims on school visits, and groomed them there. The tenor of Williams-Thomas's argument would then seem to be that Mayne, deviously calculating where to find opportunities to abuse young people, decided that the best way would be to become a well-known children's writer. This seems an unlikely strategy and a fairly tenuous motive for him to take up his pen. Besides which, if CRB checks had been in place at the time they would have done nothing to prevent the abuse, Mayne being - as far as the record showed - a man of excellent character.

Mayne's offences took place between 1960 and 1975. These days, visiting authors and other visitors (CRB-checked or not) are not allowed to spend time alone with children without a member of school staff being present. This seems to me a very sensible rule, one that doesn't cost millions to administer, and that would have been far more effective in stopping someone like Mayne than the reassuring "false negative" that might have been generated by the CRB. CRB checks, or something like them, may be useful as an added precaution when hiring teachers, caretakers and others who are likely to spend time alone with children as part of their job (so long as people can be persuaded to remember that a fallible guide to past behaviour is not the same thing as an infallible guide to future behaviour) - but for occasional, chaperoned visitors? Not so much. For once - though it pains me to say it - I agree with a government proposal.
Tags: books, current affairs
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