The Bichard Inquiry, also referred to as the Bichard Inquiry Report, is an official inquiry into the murder of two children at the hands of a known sex offender, what allowed him to commit this crime and what needs to be done in order to prevent similar cases from occurring in the future. In this article, we summarise the key findings and recommendations of the inquiry and explain the impact that it had on safeguarding and safer recruitment practices.
What is the Bichard Inquiry?
In December 2003, Ian Huntley was convicted for the murders of two school girls; Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. Huntley had been employed as the caretaker of Soham Village College in 2001; a position that involved regular contact with children. He was given the role despite being known to the authorities for eleven separate allegations of criminal offences, nine of which were sexual offences.
Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells were both ten years old and went missing in August 2002 in the village of Soham in Cambridge. Ian Huntley was discovered to have lured the girls into his home, with the help of his partner, and then murdered them, later disposing of their bodies in a ditch ten miles away.
After the case was investigated and Huntley’s criminal past was highlighted, the Home Secretary asked Sir Michael Bichard to chair an independent inquiry into safeguarding procedures, record keeping, vetting and information sharing in Humberside Police and Cambridgeshire Constabulary. The inquiry aimed to identify what had happened that led to Huntley’s employment and how a similar tragedy could be prevented.
The Bichard Inquiry Report is the result of this investigation.
What Was the Outcome of the Bichard Inquiry?
In June 2004, ‘The Bichard Inquiry Report, A Public Inquiry Report’ was published and presented by Sir Michael Bichard to the Home Secretary. The report highlighted the failures of Humberside police in how they handled intelligence and data protection and commented on the ways that other agencies had also failed in their duties to ensure that a predator like Ian Huntley couldn’t have gained access to vulnerable children.
The most impactful element of the report is that it also included recommendations for local councils and central government to ensure that cases like the murder of the girls didn’t happen again. The Bichard Inquiry recommendations main points were:
- A new system was needed to register people working with children and vulnerable adults
- A national information technology system for police intelligence in England and Wales was needed, which flags that intelligence is held about someone by particular police forces
- Clear guidelines need to be created for record creation, retention, review, deletion and the sharing of information
- Sexual offences against children and subsequent actions needed to be better referred to any relevant organisations
- Anyone involved in appointing people to work with children needed proper training
All of the recommendations made in the report were considered and prompted action from the relevant organisations. Perhaps the most impactful outcome of the Bichard Inquiry was the introduction of CRB checks, which are now known as DBS checks and are an essential part of safer recruitment practices.
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 was also introduced after the Bichard Inquiry was released, which remains an incredibly important piece of safeguarding legislation.
What Were the Bichard Inquiry Recommendations?
Below is a breakdown of the key recommendations that were made in the Bichard Inquiry report.
Police IT Procurement
- The procurement of IT systems by the police should be reviewed to ensure that, wherever possible, national solutions are delivered to national problems.
The Police National Computer (PNC)
- Investment should be made available by the Government to secure the PNC's medium and long-term future, given its importance to intelligence-led policing and to the criminal justice system as a whole.
- The new Code of Practice, made under the Police Reform Act 2002, dealing with the quality and timeliness of PNC data input, should be implemented as soon as possible.
- The quality and timeliness of PNC data input should be routinely inspected as part of the Policing Performance Assessment Framework (PPAF) and the Baseline Assessments, which are being developed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
- The transfer of responsibility for inputting court results onto the PNC should be reaffirmed by the Court Service and the Home Office and, if possible, accelerated ahead of the 2006 target. At the least, that deadline must be met.
A New Code of Practice on Information Management
- A Code of Practice should be produced covering record creation, review, retention, deletion and information sharing. This should be made under the Police Reform Act 2002 and needs to be clear, concise and practical.
- The Code of Practice must clearly set out the key principles of good information management (capture, review, retention, deletion and sharing), having regard to policing purposes, the rights of the individual and the law.
- The Code of Practice must set out the standards to be met in terms of systems (including IT), accountability, training, resources and audit. These standards should be capable of being monitored both within police forces and by HMIC and should fit within the PPAF.
- The Code of Practice should have particular regard for the factors to be considered when reviewing the retention or deletion of intelligence in cases of sexual offences.
Handling Allegations of Sexual Offences Against Children
- The Government should reaffirm the guidance in Working Together to Safeguard Children so that the police are notified as soon as possible when a criminal offence has been committed, or is suspected of having been committed, against a child, unless there are exceptional reasons not to do so.
- National guidance should be produced to inform the decision as to whether or not to notify the police. The decision would take into account:
- Age or power imbalances
- Overt aggression
- Coercion or bribery
- The misuse of substances as a disinhibitor
- Whether the child's own behaviour, because of the misuse of, substances, places him/her at risk so that he/she is unable to make an informed choice about any activity
- Whether any attempts to secure secrecy have been made by the sexual partner, beyond what would be considered usual in a teenage relationship
- Whether the sexual partner is known by one of the agencies (which presupposes that checks will be made with the police)
- Whether the child denies, minimises or accepts concerns
- Whether the methods used are consistent with grooming.
- The Integrated Children's System should record those cases where a decision is taken not to refer to the police.
- The Commission for Social Care Inspection should, as part of any social services inspection, review whether decisions not to inform the police have been properly taken.
Training for Those Conducting Interviews
- Head teachers and school governors should receive training on how to ensure that interviews to appoint staff reflect the importance of safeguarding children.
- No interview panel to appoint staff working in schools should be convened without at least one member being properly trained.
- The relevant inspection bodies should, as part of their inspection, review the existence and effectiveness of a school's selection and recruitment arrangements.
A Registration Scheme
- New arrangements should be introduced requiring those who wish to work with children, or vulnerable adults, to be registered. This register, perhaps supported by a card or licence, would confirm that there is no known reason why an individual should not work with these client groups.
- The new register would be administered by a central body, which would take the decision, subject to published criteria, to approve or refuse registration on the basis of all the information made available to them by the police and other agencies. The responsibility for judging the relevance of police intelligence in deciding a person's suitability would lie with the central body. The police would be able to identify intelligence that on no account should be disclosed to the applicant.
- Employers should still decide, based on good selection procedures, whether or not the job required the postholder to be registered and should retain the ultimate decision as to whether or not to employ.
- The central body would have the discretion to ignore any conviction information judged not to be relevant to the position in question.
- Individuals should have a right to appeal against any refusal to place them on the register and that right should be exercised before any information is made available to a third party.
- The register should be continuously updated and available to prospective employers for checking online or by telephone.
- The register should be introduced in a phased way, over a period of years, to avoid the problems associated with the introduction of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).
- The DfES, in consultation with other government departments, should decide whether the registration scheme should be evidenced by a licence or card.
You can download a full copy of the Bichard Inquiry Report here.
The Bichard Inquiry Report has a significant impact on the safeguarding guidelines that are still followed today, particularly because of the introduction of the ‘Vetting and Barring’ scheme that was introduced through The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act (2006). Reading a Bichard Inquiry summary can help safeguarding professionals become aware of the origins of many safer recruitment practices and safeguarding guidelines and acts as an important reminder of why these practices are so necessary for keeping vulnerable groups safe.
If you’d like to learn more about the procedures involved in safeguarding children through recruitment, we offer an online ‘Safer Recruitment’ training course that covers the framework for the practice and how you can implement it.