Plan To Identify Potential Violent Offenders Condemned

Council staff, charity workers and doctors will be obliged to tip off police about anyone they believe might commit a violent crime, under a Home Office plan revealed in a leaked document.

The proposals have raised civil liberties concerns by suggesting a lowering of the danger threshold at which individuals are put under surveillance and even detained by authorities. It also could lead to large amounts of personal information being circulated between agencies.

The idea has chilling echoes of the sci-fi film Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise plays a US policeman in the “pre-crime” unit who arrests would-be perpetrators before they can carry out crimes.

The draft plans on multi-agency information sharing, obtained by the Times, were circulated around Whitehall by Simon King, head of the Home Office’s violent crime unit.

The document states: “Public bodies will have access to valuable information about people at risk of becoming either perpetrators or victims of serious violence. Professionals will obviously alert police or other relevant authority if they have good reason to believe [an] act of serious violence is about to be committed.

“However, our proposal goes beyond that, and is that when they become sufficiently concerned about an individual, they must consider initial risk assessment of risk to/from that person and refer [the] case to [a] multi-agency body.”

Under the plans, two new agencies could be set up – one for potential criminals and the other for potential victims – which would collate tip-offs and carry out full risk assessments.

Danger signs apparently could include a violent family background, heavy drinking or mental health problems, while potential victims might be those who seek treatment for stress from their GP.

The plans would complement a new scheme announced by the government last week – the Nurse Family Partnership programme – under which unborn babies judged to be at most risk of social exclusion and turning to crime are to be targeted. In an effort to intervene as early as possible in troubled families, first-time mothers-to-be will be given intensive support by midwives and health visitors until their child reaches two years old.

The mental health bill before parliament at the moment also contains plans for people with mental health problems who are considered to be at risk of violence to be compulsorily detained before they commit a crime.

The Home Office document leaked today does not detail what action could be taken to head off potential violent behaviour, and admits that many elements still need to be resolved. A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Office has its duty of public protection as its top priority. These proposals are still in development and no decisions have been made.”

But a spokesman for Liberty spokesman said the reports were worrying. “What does the Home Office propose to do with the people who have committed no crime, but who fit a worrying profile? How far are we willing to go in pursuit of the unrealistic promise of a risk-free society?”

Supporters say the plans could have helped identify Soham killer Ian Huntley, who had been subject to complaints of violent behaviour which were not circulated to authorities in Cambridgeshire, where he became a school caretaker.

However unions baulk at the notion that public sector staff would be asked to “police” patients and other public service users. Unison national officer Heather Wakefield said: “It should not be the job of health and council workers to be the eyes and ears of the police, and they already work in close partnership anyway.

“There are also huge civil liberties concerns about these proposals which potentially build a barrier of suspicion between service users and service deliverers.”

The Liberal Democrat shadow home secretary, Nick Clegg, added his condemnation of the plans, which he linked to wider plans to retain DNA of thousands of people, even if they have not been convicted of any crime.

“The presumption used to be that you were innocent until found guilty. If this proposal comes into force, that principle would be turned on its head as public officials become obliged to identify the guilty even before any offences have been committed,” he said. “Is there no limit to the government’s appetite to intrude in our everyday lives?”