Tory attempt to bring in council crime checks is rejected

East Devon District Council

Conservatives on East Devon District Council wanted to bring in a new DBS policy - Credit: LDRS

The Conservative Group at East Devon District Council has failed to get through a new Disclosure and Barring (DBS) policy following the conviction of a former councillor for sex crimes against children.
Following the jailing in August of John Humphreys, who as well as serving on the district council was a former mayor of Exmouth, the Conservative group at the district council called for mandatory criminal record checks for councillors and anyone who stands for election to the council in future. 
Now a less ambitious proposal from the Conservative group, asking the council to lobby the government to change the law around DBS to allow councils to carry out such checks, has failed.
Former councillor and alderman Humphreys, 59, is serving a 21-year prison sentence after being found guilty at Exeter Crown Court of sexually assaulting two boys between 1990 and 2001. He was a prominent councillor whilst the Conservatives controlled East Devon, which since 2019 has been run by a coalition of independents, Lib Dems and Greens.
As it stands, district councils do not have the legal power to ask all councillors to go through enhanced DBS checks – something EDDC Conservatives wanted to change.
The law currently prevents anyone who has been sentenced to three months or more in prison in the five years before an election from standing to be a councillor.
But East Devon Conservatives wanted to go further and submitted a motion to EDDC’s audit and governance committee asking for the council to lobby the government to introduce mandatory enhanced DBS checks for all district councillors and officers.
The proposal failed after other councillors argued such a law would not create the necessary safeguards. They said it would be insufficient to prevent a similar case to that of Humphreys in the future and that even enhanced DBS checks do not create the protections needed.
Putting forward the motion, councillor Phil Twiss (Conservative, Honiton St Michael’s) said a new law requiring all councillors to undergo enhanced DBS checks would mean the public would have “suitably appropriate people representing them and their interests”.
Cllr Twiss’ proposal also asked for EDDC to pay for the costs of lobbying the government on the issue. It also said EDDC should pay for safeguarding training for all councillors and foot the bill for all DBS checks. The motion didn’t receive enough votes to pass.
Right now, EDDC councillors only have to go through DBS checks if they are around vulnerable people or children. A recent report from officers found the law allows the council only to ask councillors to undergo basic DBS checks. 
At present EDDC councillors can voluntarily undergo basic checks, but have to pay the £23 bill personally. If EDDC were to pay all 60 councillors to undergo the check it would cost council taxpayers £1,380.
Basic DBS checks only provide very limited information relating to ‘unspent’ convictions, which generally means very recent ones or those that carry only light sentences. 
Standard checks show spent and unspent convictions as well as police cautions. Enhanced checks detail all convictions and cautions, but also extra information from police. These can only be requested if they are relevant to the role, such as a school governor.
Speaking at the committee, Cllr Steve Gazzard (Democratic Alliance Group, Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh) said he had no problem “in principle” with Cllr Twiss’ proposal but it would not reveal things done by a councillor right after a check.
Cllr Nick Hookway (Democratic Alliance Group, Exmouth Littleham) put forward an alternative motion to request that the council’s safeguarding training includes training on the operation of the safeguarding policy. The motion was passed by the governance and audit committee.
A private member’s bill, introduced by Tory MP Sir Paul Beresford, could result in tighter rules.