Trigger Warning: This blog’s topic is the Soham murders. In 2002, a case unfolded in the English village of Soham, Cambridgeshire, where a perpetrator killed two 10-year-old girls. The murderer is presently serving a minimum of 40 years in prison.
With the new series ‘Maxine’ recently storming the viewing charts on Netflix, it brings to mind a case that is still in the back of every Records Manager’s memory. The case involves the brutal murder of two young schoolgirls, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. In August 2002, law enforcement arrested and convicted Ian Huntley, a ‘Site Manager’ at a local secondary school for committing these murders. However, the case revealed significant records management issues. These issues both enabled Huntley to commit the crime, and hindered the investigation. His employer at the time had carried out the required checks. They submitted Huntley’s legal name, together with an alias he used, ‘Nixon’, to the police. However, the police did not fully carry out the checks. The Bichard Inquiry brought this lack of thoroughness to the surface..
Released just over 20 years since the events in Soham, the series depicts the point of view of the murderer’s then-girlfriend.
Maxine Carr was the girlfriend of Ian Huntley. She stood trial, and the court found her guilty of perverting the course of justice. Carr’s crime was to provide Huntley with a false alibi. (Carr allegedly did not know the full extent of Huntley’s crime when she provided this alibi)
‘The Soham murders’ is a stark reminder of the tragic consequences that can arise from lapses in ‘good’ records management. They kicked off a public inquiry (Bichard), which turned the heads of the information profession. This was mostly due to significant records management content in the final report.
The harrowing events that unfolded in Soham shook the United Kingdom to its core. They raise important points about how the poor management of records can impact the investigation and prevention of crimes.
Loss of life by murder is harrowing in any circumstance. When lives of children are lost, the pain echoes more profoundly, particularly when both police forces could have done more to safeguard the lives and safety of the public.
After marrying, Carr lives a under new and undisclosed identity. She is one of only four people in the UK who have received Lifelong Anonymity. The others are Jamie Bulger’s killers (Jon Venables and Robert Thompson) and child killer Mary Bell.
Lapses in Records
One of the foremost records management issues in the Huntley case was related to the incomplete and inadequately maintained records. Huntley had a history of concerning behaviour, including allegations of inappropriate conduct with underage girls. Unfortunately, the relevant authorities did not properly document or share these crucial pieces of information. This could have raised red flags and prevented Huntley from being in close proximity to children.
Huntley wasn’t a Site Manager at the girls’ school. However he was in the locality because Huntley’s new employer helped him to get the tenancy at 5 College Close. He and Carr moved in there together. Carr lied on her application form to the primary school about her qualifications, which were never confirmed. As a result, she secured a teaching assistant role, placing her in the class with the girls.
Mismanagement of Criminal Records
The mismanagement of criminal records played a critical role in the tragedy. Huntley had a previous record of sexual offences. This should have been a clear indication of his potential danger to society. Due to errors in handling criminal records, the authorities responsible for vetting Huntley’s suitability for a school position were not effectively informed of his criminal history. The reason behind this was that the Humberside Police force had destroyed any information relating to Huntley.
The Humberside Police Force confused “Weeding,” “Reviewing,” and “Destruction.” Consequently, during the scheduled review and weeding of records, they were mistakenly destroyed. Currently, intelligence related to offenses against vulnerable individuals has a retention period of ‘life of the person plus additional years,’ determined by each force’s risk management. For instance, records with valuable lessons may be kept longer. The Bichard Report detailed that both police forces had failed to share evidence and deleted vital files, including an intelligence report which identified Huntley as a “serial sex attacker”
As a result of the Bichard Inquiry; ‘The Management of Police Information (MOPI) Code 2005‘ was created to prevent something like this happening again. They also created a Police National Database as HOLMES database was only holding limited amount of information.
Soham and Cambridge Communication Breakdown
The case also highlighted the problems arising from a lack of effective communication between different agencies involved in records management. The police force, education authorities, and child protection agencies failed to share vital information with each other or other relevant bodies, leading to a fragmented understanding of Huntley’s background and potential threat.
Out of this came the nationwide police database.
Furthermore, Huntley used another name, ‘Nixon.’ This lack of linkage prevented the sharing of information, as it was not recognised that both names belonged to the same person.
List 99 and Section 142
As mentioned earlier, Maxine Carr lied on her job application about what qualifications she had that would allow her to be a teaching assistant. Some would wonder how she managed to get a teaching job but realistically she was not a threat to children in herself. Carr had no previous convictions or charges. Therefore just lying about her qualifications would not bring herself to the attention of the authorities. But could a more robust system have stopped her?
To understand this, we must delve further into history. 1955, saw the establishment of ‘List 99’. This is a compilation of individuals deemed unfit to work with children. Originally, it included those convicted or cautioned for offenses against children. However, by 1995, List 99 no longer served child protection but automatically included adults convicted of serious sexual offenses against children under 16. They were added due to Section 142, prohibiting certain individuals from working in schools. The Bichard inquiry’s 2004 report highlighted List 99’s shortcomings.
List 99 persisted, accumulating data until October 2009, when it was succeeded by the Children’s Barred List. This new list, created under the Safeguarding Groups Act 2006, was overseen by the Independent Safeguarding Authority, later merging with the Criminal Records Bureau to form the present-day ‘Disclosures and Barring Services (DBS).’
Qualified to Teach (QTS)
In 2002, nothing hindered Maxine Carr from securing employment, as her record likely lacked issues that would place her on List 99/Children’s Barred List. The Department for Education (DfE) introduced the “Qualified Teacher Check (QTS)” to address this. Schools access it through the DfE portal. Qualifying for the register involves completing a teaching qualification or obtaining an assessment-only QTS. QTS is now a legal requirement for teaching in many English schools.
Employers can now check Personal Details, Disclosure and Barring restrictions, Qualifications, Probation and other records for teachers. However, despite these checks, we seem to have learned little. There’s no requirement for Teaching Assistants to have QTS, and although they undergo Enhanced DBS checks, it wouldn’t flag up issues like Maxine Carr’s relationship with Ian Huntley/Nixon. Moreover, an Enhanced DBS doesn’t cover the necessary ‘Barred List,’ so someone barred from working with children wouldn’t be checked.
Even though Carr wasn’t barred at the time, you’d expect Ian Huntley to be. Despite the record mishap, you’d anticipate a security check on the relationships/living arrangements of those working with children. This isn’t the case. The only instance this applies is for Child Minders in their own home, where every adult must undergo a DBS check.
Lessons Learned or Not from Soham?
The Huntley case underscored the dire need for improved records management practices to prevent such tragic incidents from occurring in the future. Ensuring critical information is readily accessible to relevant parties and promptly addressing any concerns requires a comprehensive and integrated approach to records management:
- Strengthening Records: Maintaining accurate and up-to-date records is paramount. Regular checks and proper documentation of staff behaviour, especially those working closely with children, can help identify and address potential risks early on.
- Effective Criminal Records Management: Retaining criminal records appropriately and understanding that the data held has a significant impact on everyday lives are crucial aspects for forces. Having a good understanding of records management across a police force would have prevented individuals with a history of offences from slipping through the cracks and gaining access to positions of trust.
- Seamless Interagency Communication: Streamlining collaboration and information sharing between different agencies is a necessity. Improving communication channels would ensure that all concerned parties have a comprehensive view of an individual’s background, enabling them to make informed decisions.
- An Enhanced DBS alone doesn’t sufficiently check whether a teaching assistant is barred from working with children. I would expect this to have been learnt by now but sadly not.
The tragic events surrounding the Soham murders shed light on the critical role that records management plays in maintaining public safety and preventing criminal activities. The lapses and issues identified in this case underline the urgency for a holistic approach to records management that encompasses accurate documentation, effective criminal records management, and seamless interagency communication. While Ian Huntley’s side provided valuable lessons, it’s evident that insufficient lessons were learned from Maxine Carr’s aspects. You’d think that by learning from these mistakes and implementing robust records management practices, the society could take significant steps toward ensuring the safety and well-being of its most vulnerable members but let’s hope that this never arises again.
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