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Not reporting abuse 'must be crime'

Source BBC News@

Jimmy SavileSince the Savile revelations, Panorama has unearthed declassified files about child sexual abuse

Failing to report allegations of child abuse should be made a criminal offence, according to the former director of public prosecutions.

Keir Starmer has said he thinks there should be "mandatory reporting".

Declassified files uncovered by BBC Panorama show how schools and hospitals have repeatedly failed to protect children from sex offenders.

A government spokesperson said: "Mandatory reporting is not the answer."

Currently there is no criminal sanction in Britain for failing to report suspected child abuse.

But in countries like the US, Canada and Australia, professionals can be charged with a criminal offence.

Declassified files

Ever since the Jimmy Savile revelations, Panorama has been investigating secret historical records and looking at what government officials knew about abuse in children's homes and boarding schools.

Declassified government files going back 60 years show how senior civil servants were well aware that school authorities routinely hid child abuse and the law was an inadequate deterrent.

One of the most detailed historical files in the National Archives is about a cover-up at the Royal Alexandra and Albert school.

Today it is a well-regarded state boarding school in Reigate, Surrey.

However research by Panorama has revealed that seven child abusers worked at the school between the 1950s and the 1980s.

'Time for a change'

Keir StarmerKeir Starmer says a criminal penalty "would focus people's minds"

Until last week, Mr Starmer was the director of public prosecutions.

He said he thinks it is time for change in the law.

"I think there should be a mandatory reporting provision. My own view is that it should require certain categories of individual to report if they have reasonable cause to suspect," he said.

"There needs to be a criminal penalty… that would focus people's minds. There also needs to be immunity for individuals if they did report.

"There are just too many examples of cases where those who have suspected abuse have not really done anything about it and the perpetrator has either got away with it or worse still been able to perpetuate the offending," he said.

For the first time, the Catholic Church and the Church of England have also come out in support of mandatory reporting.

Bishop Paul Butler, head of safeguarding at the Church of England, said: "We have to think of the child first, not ourselves, not the institution, what's best for the child."

But the government does not currently have any plans to change the law.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Mandatory reporting is not the answer. Professionals should refer immediately to social care when they are concerned about a child. This happens every year in many thousands of cases and numbers of referrals have increased over recent years.

"Other countries have tried mandatory reporting and there is no evidence to show that it is a better system for protecting children."

You can watch Panorama: After Savile: No More Secrets, BBC One, Monday 4 November at 20:30 GMT and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

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