District Councillors serving in East Devon are to undergo basic criminal checks

Questions have been raised if basic criminal checks brought in to weed out law-breakers keen to serve on the district council in East Devon will go far enough to protect the community.

Criminal checks of East Devon’s Councillors are to go ahead, writes local democracy reporter Bradley Gerrard.

The district council has agreed the need for a basic Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, which discloses unspent convictions and cautions.

While Councillors must consent to the check, because the requirement is a formal protocol in the council’s constitution, failure to comply could amount to a potential breach of the code of conduct.

Checks will be carried out when Councillors are first elected and then at each subsequent election.

But Cllr Roy Collins (Liberal Party, Honiton St Michaels) questioned the value of a basic check, which doesn’t provide the level of detail of an enhanced check, such as ‘spent’ convictions covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and the possible inclusion of police intelligence that a chief officer considers necessary to disclose.

“I feel it’s far too late, as you are only going to pull up people that have been convicted and already punished for whatever they have done,” he said.

“We need to find people committing offences that are not known about. You would have never have found [John] Humphreys [a former Councillor later convicted of historic child sex offences]. You wouldn’t have found him before.”

John Humphreys, from Exmouth, was in 2021 jailed for 21 years and placed indefinitely on the Sex Offenders’ Register.

An external report by Verita published last year said Humphreys failed to tell the council he was under police investigation or that he had been arrested and eventually charged.

Exmouth John Humphreys, pictured here, was jailed at Exeter Crown Court for 21 years.

John Humphreys, pictured here, was in 2021 jailed at Exeter Crown Court for 21 years.

“The responsibility for maintaining the standards of behaviour expected of an elected representative was his alone,” the report said.

“That he failed to do so was not the fault of officers and Councillors

It continued: “In the absence of any such concerns being raised about Humphreys, there was no action that officers or Councillors could have taken,” it said.

The decision to seek basic DBS checks for Councillors in East Devon comes amid a national review of the checks last year by former Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey.

Mr Bailey recommended that all unitary and upper tier councils conduct mandatory enhanced criminal checks of Councillors who are being considered for appointment to any committee involved in decisions about children’s services or services for vulnerable adults.

While East Devon District Council is not a unitary or upper tier council, and does not carry out social services functions, it acknowledged it had “the ability to invite all members to undergo a basic DBS check.

“Whilst this is not mandatory, by including this protocol in the constitution, it will mean that failure to comply will result in a member being in potential breach of the code of conduct,” a report for Councillors stated.

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