Soham murder inquiry chair backs Telegraph campaign as he demands Government keep children safe online

Posted on: 2018-08-18 16:00:00

Lord Bichard, a crossbench peer, said that while awareness about child safety has improved in the past 15 years, the Government needs to “get real” and understand that “we live in the different world now”.

He said there is an “urgent” need for new legislation to protect youngsters on social media and digital platforms, since “grooming takes place online more than anywhere else”.

Lord Bichard was appointed by the Government to investigate major safeguarding failures in the wake of the murders of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002 by their school caretaker Ian Huntley.

Applying under a different name, Huntley had been able to get the job at the girls’ school despite coming to the attention of police on numerous occasions, including for grooming teenage girls.

“I feel as a result of Soham that the Government responded positively,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “But the world has changed dramatically since 2004 and it is this issue of online access and online grooming that we need to focus on.”

In what became known as the Bichard Report, he made a number of recommendations which were subsequently  acted on by ministers.

The disclosure and barring scheme was introduced, so that people working with children and  and vulnerable adults had to undergo background checks. A police national database was set up so that information about dangerous individuals can be shared between forces.

"None of us want there to be a tragedy like the Soham tragedy to prompt action,” said Lord Bichard, a former permanent secretary.

"We want to see action taken to prevent that kind of tragedy. That is where we need to revisit the current arrangements. How do you make sure children are as protected when they are online as when they are walking around the streets?”

Lord Bichard is a non-executive director at The Key, a safeguarding information service for school leaders.

He said that there is currently “no comprehensive strategy” for a joined up safeguarding approach that connect schools, parents and social media providers.

“We need social media providers to accept the kind of duty of care that The Telegraph is promoting,” he said.

He urged the Government to act quickly as he voiced frustration at the current pace of change.

“[We have been promised] a white paper in the turn of the year, followed by consultation, followed by legislation who knows when,” he said . “I think they should be heeding the call of The Telegraph’s campaign and do something about it sooner rather than later.”

The Daily Telegraph has launched the Duty of Care campaign calling on ministers to make social media and online gaming companies subject to a statutory duty to protect children from harms such as addiction, bullying and grooming when using their services.

Ministers are considering new measures to rein in the worst excesses of online tech companies amid  fears a generation of young people is being harmed by unregulated use of social media and online gaming platforms.

Lord Bichard said that social media and online providers should take on the responsibility of helping parents understand security settings, enforcing age restrictions and preventing children from communicating with strangers.

"They ought to have a responsibility to get information and material out there to help protect the users of your product," he said.

“How do providers educate, how do they inform, how do they help parents to manage the risk, how do they define the risk: all of these would go with a duty of care.”

Source: The Telegraph

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