Proposals for the creation of a new offence where failing to report child abuse could let to prosecution could undermine police professionalism, a leading sociologist has claimed.
Professor Frank Furedi said creating new legislation obliging anyone aware of child abuse to speak up would not make vulnerable children’s lives any more secure
“It would only create more paperwork and suspicion,” he added.
Professor Furedi, the author of several books including one on the Jimmy Savile scandal, told PoliceOracle.com: “A new law like this would produce a system where everyone would feel compelled to say something even if they think it is not that important, because they would feel they have to cover their backs.
“You would have a situation where police resources are focussed on investigating all sorts of reports, so that, even if deep down the police feel something is not relevant, they are obliged to play the game, which undermines their professionalism and makes them less effective.”
‘Not about resourcing’
Senior figures including Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe and Mayor of London Boris Johnson have suggested the Met may need to ask the Home Office for “extraordinary” additional funds if it is found the force does not possess sufficient resources to investigate allegations of historic child abuse that have surfaced over the past week.
Professor Furedi stressed his argument was “not about resourcing,” adding: “If it would lead to greater protection for children, I would say yes to it.”
But he said a new “mandatory reporting” law – calls for which have been backed by children’s charity the NSPCC – would “only serve the interests of institutions as it would be about box ticking.”
He added: “Making different things into criminal actually doesn’t solve very much. Lawyers have told me there is already complicit in crime legislation which could be used to target people who saw something but kept quiet.”
‘Safety of a child’
The NSPCC had previously not been in support of creating new reporting legislation, but this week the charity’s Chief Execitive Peter Wanless said: “We have concluded that the balance between the support for staff to do the right thing and the challenge if they do not, must be out of kilter. We want a change in the law specifically to prevent child abuse cover-ups.
“We believe anyone who tries to hide such incidents should face criminal charges. The reputation of an organisation should never be put above the safety of a child.”
Prime Minister David Cameron has hinted he may support a new law, though the Office of the Children’s Commissioner has struck a nuanced tone.
In a statement the organisation said: “We remain unconvinced that introducing a general law which makes the reporting of child abuse mandatory would improve the protection of children and are concerned, having read evidence from NSPCC and others that it may have the opposite effect.
“However, we do believe that the reporting of abuse in some circumstances, and in particular, institutional settings should be mandatory. This is because in such circumstances children do not have the usual sources of support and there may be specific conflicts of interest for the institution such as reputational issues. In addition, and in line with NSPCC’s thinking, we consider it should be against the law for someone to actively cover up child abuse.”