Sex-offenders could get jobs as teachers in Northern schools if they are among those not banned from teaching by under-fire, Ulster-born British education secretary Ruth Kelly, it was revealed today.
As she became engulfed in further controversy, Nigel Williams, Commissioner for Children in the North, urged ministers to swiftly implement all measures necessary to keep the sex offenders and paedophiles out of classrooms.
As he did so his office revealed that those on the sex-offenders register who were kept off the list used by school heads to check the background of potential recruits would be able to get jobs in schools in the North.
Ms Kelly admitted in the House of Commons today that she still did not know exactly how many sex-offenders had been kept off the list, known as List 99.
A spokesman for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner said: “When a principal here wants to employ a teacher he looks on List 99 and if their name is not there they can get the job.
“If Ruth Kelly has taken a name off the list the principal would not know.”
Mr Williams said he was “astonished” people had been allowed to work as teachers after their names were put on the sex-offenders register .
“While a full picture has yet to emerge, I hope that this serves as a lesson to us all why we cannot let up in our efforts to protect children and young people,” said Mr Williams.
Last year, his office published a review of vetting procedures – the way adults were checked to make sure they were suitable to work or volunteer to work with children.
The review followed the Bichard Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the tragic deaths in Soham of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells at the hands of Ian Huntley.
Mr Williams said: “While I am pleased by the progress being made by the government here in Northern Ireland, I emphasised in a meeting with officials yesterday that all relevant Bichard recommendations had to be implemented in Northern Ireland as quickly as possible.”