The following case studies are examples of issues the Review Panel has worked on in recent years. In some cases the Review Panel was able to get people returned to the jobs they had been rejected from. It is crucial to note that Cases 1, 4 and 5 would now fall under the Guidance Principles.
Case Study 1
"He contended that his record was wrong and that he did not hold the convictions that were on his record. "
A male in his late 50s worked for around 20 years for an environmental group in a deprived neighbourhood in which he lived. On appointment to that post he declared that he held a conviction and had been imprisoned from 1975 to 1987. Since then he had held no convictions and had gained a series of promotions within his place of work. This in the opinion of his employer was due to his ‘high work ethos and desire to set an example of hard-working’. He was also praised for the standard of his work, his management of other employees and his dedication to working with volunteers many of whom were vulnerable due to their age, special needs and disabilities.
His duties involved organising litter management and environmental upgrading and he worked with volunteers who generally came from socially deprived backgrounds. On his appointment in 1994 he had been reviewed by his employer through a risk matrix and was cleared to work with vulnerable persons.
His employer had been funded by a grant from the Department of Social Development (DSD) but in 2013 when the grant ended his employer competitively tendered to continue to undertake the same work for DSD as a sub-contractor. This meant that he fell under the terms and conditions of Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) contracts and had to complete an AccessNI check which was forwarded to the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP). He declared his conviction and this led to DFP advising his employers that, under rehabilitation and offenders legislation, that he not suitable as an employee to work with vulnerable persons due to the material relevance of his conviction. His employers appealed the decision but to no avail. The Review Panel asked the DFP to re-consider on the basis that the individual had worked with vulnerable persons for a significant period of time and was of good standing. The DFP permitted a statement of disclosure regarding his good character but upheld their previous decision.
This individual, who was given advice by the Review Panel, won his court case and was returned to his post.
Case Study 2
After an 8 week period she was informed that her offer of employment would remain withdrawn
A woman in her mid-50s who received a conflict related conviction in respect of a firearms offence in 1982 when she was 22 years old. She successfully secured employment, in 2014, through a parenting programme operated by a major children’s charity in conjunction with a university in Great Britain.
Her employment, with the charity was to facilitate trainers to support a parenting programme. Her employer in Northern Ireland was fully aware of her conviction and did not feel, given her experience and excellent track record, that there was any material relevance in it regarding working with vulnerable persons. Her past employment had been related to issues of anxiety and stress management and she was well-placed to undertake any tasks that involved working with children as she had been employed in trauma counselling as a masseuse and had regularly treated people suffering from emotional distress.
Despite her having declared her convictions to her employer, the new post required that an AccessNI check to be completed. On completion she was informed by the charity’s head office (in Great Britain) that she could not proceed in her employment until she had been interviewed by two staff from the charities head office. Those staff came to Northern Ireland to interview the candidate concerning her conviction, and how she came to be working on the programme. After an 8 week period she was informed that her offer of employment would remain withdrawn as she would be working with vulnerable children.
During her interview she clearly stated that she had several years’ experience of delivering stress management techniques in both primary and secondary schools and had also worked in catering within a local school. Her experience of having worked with children and vulnerable persons was not deemed as relevant and her employer confirmed to the Review Panel that the charity’s review team undertook what they proposed was an extensive review and risk assessment which conformed to their legal right under FETO and offenders and rehabilitation law. This they claimed was due to the employee’s conviction not serving best the interests of the charity or its beneficiaries.
Despite enquiring the Review Panel was not informed why the employees experience and the relevance of that experience was deemed unimportant. Several weeks later she was rejected as a lecturer in a further education college even though she was had been offered the post, declared her conviction and would be teaching adults. In both cases the employers agreed to the Review Panel that she was the best qualified candidate.
The Review Panel were able to persuade the further education college to offer this applicant a contract which they did.
Case Study 3
"This restricted the places he could access work and undermined his promotion opportunities"
With regard to Security Clearance checks, a man in his late 50s who held no conflict-related convictions had an extensive record of employment as a locksmith and alarm fitter since 1979. He regularly fitted alarms and locks in police stations, army barracks and judge’s homes.
In the 1980s he was working in the home of a senior member of the legal profession and was mistakenly identified by a police officer as one of his brothers who was imprisoned at that time. Although, his employer accepted that this was a case of mistaken identity he then failed for the first time in his career to gain Security Clearance (SC) and Developed Vetting (DV) clearance. This restricted the places he could access work and undermined his promotion opportunities as he could not be a team manager as that required SC/DV clearance. If working ‘on call’ he would have to arrange for colleagues to cover emergency work in security/sensitive based sites. He claims that on several occasions his employers were told by police officers to sack him and that they, as an employer, would be responsible for any issues that arose regarding his employment and his family links.
After fulfilling a major contract for his employer in the health service, in 2008, he felt able to apply for a promotion which he did not receive. At this point given the impact of the allegations against him he took a redundancy package. In 2008 he took employment with a similar business and was required to undertake a Counter-Terrorist Check which was declined. He continued for some time working for this new employer but was hindered by his inability to gain access to security sites. He repeatedly appealed the decision regarding his security clearance. This, for example, he did in 2008 and was refused in 2009. He appealed that decision in 2009 and in the same year the Security Vetting Officer refused his appeal. He then immediately appealed the decision to the Assistant Chief Constable who refused his final appeal. Given a career of being hampered by innuendo and guilt by association the employee is now working on a salary of less than 50% of what he had received previously.
This person was to eventually gain security clearance.
Case Study 4
"He was advised that he could not work on the project that he had conceived, designed and led"
Several other have been denied employment under rehabilitation and offenders legislation. In one instance a community leader who held a conflict related conviction had been employed in the community sector for over 15 years and for the past 9 years of that employment had been both the Operations Manager and then Managing Director of a community resource centre. His job involved working with various disadvantaged groups in a socially deprived area and in his spare time he operated a homework club for parents and their children.
The resource centre he led was tasked under Neighbourhood Renewal policies and programmes to tackle problems such as educational underachievement, physical and economic regeneration and employment issues. In 2013 his organisation submitted a bid for a social economy training project in which he was named as a lead applicant. He successfully received capital funds from the OFMDFM Social Investment Fund to purchase a building in which the social economy project would operate. A subsequent tender to Invest NI and DSD was successfully awarded. This he also led and he received funding for his and another two staff to work in the hub/enterprise of which he was a trustee.The contract was awarded on the condition of an AccessNI checks. His two staff passed these checks but his case was referred to the DFP for review. He was advised that he could not work on the project that he had conceived, designed and led, as it involved working with vulnerable persons.
The Review Panel met with Invest NI who advised that they have no issues with ex-prisoner organisations and had engaged with the groups in the past through other Invest NI training projects. In fact, and somewhat bizarrely, Invest NI sat on the board for the social enterprise hub along with the person rejected as did representatives from Department of Social Development and Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment. The Review Panel was also informed that Invest NI had in association with this individual taken the lead on the procurement/regulation of the hub with regard to location and financial capability.
The DFP confirmed that the decision to list generic baseline clearance as a requirement in the tender for employment was based on two considerations. First, the nature of the service to be delivered to potentially a wide range of groups (mother and toddler groups and youth groups including children and vulnerable adults) involved and secondly the range of delivery agents and their professional ability. They confirmed, that based on these two considerations, and despite his working with vulnerable persons for an extensive period of time that he was deemed unsuitable for employment on the basis of Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults’ legislation.
A similar case involved two ex-prisoners released in the mid-1980s. Both were qualified youth workers who in that capacity had been employed by an education and library board and other public bodies. The development trust, that aimed to employ them, operated with an enterprise agency that developed commercial viability within community organisations in areas of socio-economic disadvantage. The trust worked to enable people with learning disabilities to enter employment. Both were nominated to be employed as managers within newly established community hubs but due to public funding each was advised that they would be contractors working under Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) regulations which required a pre-employment check.
Both were subsequently advised that their convictions disbarred them and that there disclosure certificate and statement of disclosure were ‘carefully considered in line with DFP policy and the NICS risk assessment guidance prior to a decision being reached’. The same letter confirmed ‘that there is no formal appeal process, however should the individual wish to contact us directly with any queries these would be addressed’. The employers and partner organisations involved wrote to DFP and noted that the men were of good standing, had worked with vulnerable persons and that they had shown leadership in that they had worked across the sectarian divide. The employers stated that they had found it; ‘strange that these individuals were cleared to work directly for XXXX as youth workers but not for DETI’ and that ‘we find this situation very discriminatory and formally request that you look into this matter’. The vetting decision was upheld and both men were rendered unemployed.
Case Study 5
"He was dismissed and advised by DFP that he was a security risk"
An individual in his early 60s who was released in the 1990s and who since release had no further convictions. This individual had worked mainly in the hotel/ hospitality industry and listed a number of posts which he held since his release which involved being in a position of trust that included handling cash, hosting job interviews and working with the PSNI.
In 2015 he decided he wanted a career change as he was unable to work late shifts due to his physical fitness. He applied for a job in ‘soft services’ and was as explained by the interviewer ‘the best candidate I have interviewed in years’. As a successful applicant he started work as a porter in a government building and was in post one week when he was advised that he had to complete an AccessNI check. He self-disclosed his conviction and was told that told that it would not be a problem as he had no access to sensitive/confidential material.
He continued to work for a further 3 weeks after which he was dismissed and advised by DFP that he was a security risk. He then completed a statement of disclosure about his suitability for employment and received a letter from DFP stating that they still found him unsuitable as he had ‘a propensity to violence’. This was measured on the basis of his sole conviction.
Several weeks later this individual was approached by a health care company who were interested in employing him as he held an OCN Health and Social Care Certificate. He attended an interview as requested and disclosed verbally and in writing his convictions. During the interview (on a Friday) he was informed that he was ‘an impressive candidate’ who had a sound work history and experience and that he should call back on the following Monday to complete an AccessNI form. He was phoned on the Monday and was told not to come in as a line manager had stated that he could not be employed due to his conviction and that he fell under FETO legislation.
Case Study 6
"He contended that his record was wrong and that he did not hold the convictions that were on his record"
A male in his late 50s, who was appointed to a post but then removed after an AccessNI check. He contended that his record was wrong and that he did not hold the convictions that were on his record. This was due to him having won an appeal in the early 1980s and having his convictions quashed.
The Review Panel asked his employer to keep his post open until the matter was resolved. The record was amended after the Review Panel contacted the Department of Justice. He was fully re-instated to his post.