This letter was submitted the ‘The Friend’, a Quaker periodical publication, recently Still awaiting the editor’s decision as to whether or not it will be published.

Dear Friends

At present we, in the Central Yorkshire Area Meeting (CYAM), are being urged, on instructions from Britain Yearly Meeting, to adopt a policy which will safeguard children and vulnerable adults.  I refer to the society’s intention to have at least two members of each meeting CRB checked and ‘cleared’ for ‘child safety purposes’.

If I may begin by relating some of my own experiences of the Criminal Records Bureau and the certificates it issues.  I am a member of a large recreational association with branches throughout the country some of which have already been pressured into CRB checking their leaders and administrators.  The results have been notable as many long standing leaders, well known and respected by other members, declined to take such checks and as a result no longer participate in social events; one can only wonder what dark secrets they had to hide. If they were the only ones to disappear maybe that would not be so bad but not only the refuseniks but their friends have gone with them, depleting numbers somewhat.  However, if a reduction in numbers is anything to judge by I think we can say those groups are now far safer than they ever were in the past.

In addition to the effect on numbers, CRB checks introduce an unhealthy and unwholesome atmosphere of distrust to whichever organisation chooses to use them.  The implication is that everyone is guilty and poses a potential threat to vulnerable people [almost a reinvention of ‘original sin’]. The way to lift one’s self above such guilt is to undergo a CRB check. In this manner those with certificates are deemed ‘safe’ and the others, not so; in this way CRB checking also has a divisive effect on a group or society.  If CYAM gets its way and each meeting complies with the ruling we will have two people at each meeting house who may be entrusted with the care of children and other vulnerable people – and no one else.

In reality a CRB disclosure certificate achieves nothing. It doesn’t show a person is trustworthy, has done nothing wrong and, most important, of all says nothing about what he/she will do in the future.  Even the phrasing used on a ‘clean’ certificate raises doubts, for example  ‘Police Records of Convictions, Cautions, Reprimands and Warnings – NOT RECORDED’. Why not a straightforward ‘NONE’? ‘NOT RECORDED’ has a subliminal message ‘no record found but he/she may have offended, we simply don’t know’.  It certainly doesn’t tell you that this person will not murder, assault or molest someone in the future.

Why are some people so enthusiastic about such a useless measure?  For those with a desire to keep others under their thumb the appeal is obvious as it is way of controlling people, of sifting out those you like from those you don’t while under the pretence of doing something good.

I have yet to see one benefit of this procedure but so far I have only seen negative effects – financial cost to clubs and societies, loss of membership, loss of participation within the remaining membership, further reinforcement of the deep-seated distrust and suspicion which pervades society as a whole and yet our Elders and Overseers, who I understand are selected for their deeper understanding of Quaker values, far from demanding that we find a way forward to a more sensible method of our own and thus set the standard,  are urging us to follow the sheep.  Our society has a long history of dissent, of standing up to unjust or unfair laws, of saying ‘no’ to imposed procedures and being prepared to take the consequences. This is surely such an occasion to insist on being different.

At risk of stating the obvious we are the Religious Society of Friends, we seek the truth, we endeavour to stand for the truth, we accept nothing but the truth and in our quest for the truth we develop a sharp eye which enables us to accept that which is of value and worth and reject that which is puff.

I feel our myopia is reaching chronic levels.

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