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Friday, 12 January 2018

Details of tens of thousands deemed potential threat stored on council databases

Written by Ryan Hooper and Isabel Togoh

Centenarians, pre-school children and babies are among tens of thousands of people whose details are stored on internal council databases due to their deemed potential threat to staff, an investigation has found.

Authorities across England identified more than 25,000 service users whose details are flagged on registers sometimes referred to as cautionary contacts lists (CCL), designed to warn staff of a potential risk to their safety.

In some cases, authorities highlighted residents' criminal records, history of violence against women, religious fundamentalism and aggressive behaviour towards employees as a reason for their addition to the lists.

They include a man who keeps a "samurai sword over his front door and a mallet by his bed", another armed with "a machete, catapult and axe" at their home, and one man who attempted to knock down two council workers with his van.

Others identified dangerous pets and safety hazards within the client's home, as well as examples of racist and homophobic behaviour - including a woman who expressed anti-Muslim views and wanted to choose the ethnicity of the staff member she dealt with.

Some councils identified a number of registered sex offenders on their list, while one council added a client to their database for accessing extremist websites.

The data was obtained by the Press Association from 76 authorities with details through Freedom of Information laws.

A 106-year-old man was kept on Central Bedfordshire's list for almost 10 years for being "a risk to self and others".

The council told the Press Association: "Whilst the list of adult social care clients is lengthy, this includes records of individuals who the council has worked with at any time over the past 11 years.

"A number of these cases will no longer be current but, for those which are, the customer record flag is an important means of alerting the staff who will be working with them."

A four-year-old deemed "physically or sexually threatening" and two three-year-olds for being violent to staff or other professionals were flagged on Essex Council's own social services database.

In a statement, it said young children included on the list had been flagged "as a result of concerns about other people in their households/families".

The council added: "It is important to emphasise that the list provided has been compiled specifically in response to the Freedom of Information Act request and we do not hold a cautionary contact list.

"The records used to compile the list come from our social services database, where people can be flagged if concerns are raised.

"We have a duty of care to our employees and take their safety extremely seriously.

"It is very important that appropriate measures are in place to make them aware of risks and protect them from potential harm."

Some files date back to when clients were very young children, while others are kept without notifying clients about their inclusion due to concerns that exposing the list could further ignite tensions.

Many said they reviewed their databases regularly, although some councils disclosed examples of clients being left on file for decades.

Data from six councils with gender-related information about those listed found 229 were male, compared with 52 female.

Almost 1,500 service users were identified as not to be visited by a lone council worker, a woman, or at all.

A Local Government Association spokesman said: "Councils have a duty of care to their employees to ensure they are safe and aware of risks when carrying out their work.

"Local authorities keep cautionary contacts lists purely to protect staff who are in regular contact with local residents and businesses.

"Councils take their responsibilities under data protection law very seriously and, despite limited resources, are investing in robust systems to further safeguard confidential information prior to the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation in May 2018.

"As far as we are aware, local authorities have complied with the law in the way they are recording data while maintaining these lists."

Entry on council 'caution list' could affect way service is delivered to client

Clients included on some warning lists might expect changes to the way they access local authority services, according to safeguarding guidance handed out to council workers.

One authority indicated that an entry on its "caution list" would not "exclude a person from receiving a council service" but may "affect the way the service is delivered".

Changes could include arranging for more than one member of staff to visit at a time, a spokesman for Central Bedfordshire Council said.

He said: "Such staff include social workers and occupational therapists, and the customer intelligence provided to them allows them to take appropriate action to maintain their duty of care to our customers as well as protecting themselves from potential risks by, for example, visiting the client in pairs."

A spokesman for South Gloucestershire Council said: "The key thing is that we will look to find a way that allows us to provide the services someone is entitled to in a way that, where necessary, provides additional safety and confidence to our staff."

Other instances saw excluded clients being denied home visits.

Some handbooks, intended to safeguard the health and safety of council workers, outlined the categories under which potentially threatening or "unreasonable" clients fall under.

These included service users who make "lengthy phone calls", send emails to "numerous" council staff, expect immediate responses and those who make "multiple interactions on social media a day".

Others include things such as "threats to kill", brandishing weapons or clients exposing themselves.

The procedure for council staff tasked with handling threatening incidents also urges them to notify clients of their inclusion on the list in line with the Data Protection Act, unless an unpleasant response is expected.

One council handbook advised: "In many cases, informing people that details of incidents will be held on the database will have a deterrent effect.

"However, the objective is to protect staff, and it is recognised that in some cases mention of the database could provoke certain individuals into further threatening behaviour."

Two councils also disclosed a multiple-step "process flowchart" outlining in detail the procedure for logging a cautionary client.

In one case, council staff were encouraged to give complainants the chance to "modify their behaviour" before being added to the list.

Guidance also contains instructions for lists to be reviewed and updated regularly.

Handbooks are drawn up by individual councils and are not universal.

Violence, abuse and racism: Reasons why people feature on council warning lists

Here are some examples of the responses councils supplied when asked to provide details of their cautionary contacts list (CCL), described as a system or register which lists potentially aggressive or abusive customers or members of the public, in an effort to protect council staff from potentially harmful situations, including physical assault and verbal abuse:

  • Barking and Dagenham council showed children as young as 10 among 1,572 warning markers. Reasons included for violence, verbal aggression, and their risk to children. There were 117 warnings about visiting service users alone or at all.
  • Brent council had 28 warning markers, almost all of which were for violence including one customer who threw a trolley at security before wrecking the toilets. One made racist comments to staff by calling them "monkeys" and saying he "wanted to speak to a human", while another made "inappropriate advances" via text message to staff.
  • Bromley council's list referred to its children's social care and environmental services department - with 214 markers, including two which mentioned dogs. Another record - describing a service user as being "very aggressive towards anybody in authority, he has recently been released from prison for assaulting a police officer and has made threats to kill" - underlined the seriousness of the threat to some council staff.
  • Camden council had five people managed under an unreasonable behaviour policy due to "excessive and persistent" behaviour, including threats, abuse, and "continuing to pursue complaints far past the point, considered to be exhausted".
  • Croydon council (pictured) had 54 markers, the earliest dating back to June 2013.
  • Ealing council had a CCL with 51 examples, including five for sexual-related reasons. The council said it held no details on date of birth, adding: "The information is restricted to only what is necessary."
  • Harrow council said its housing system contained a field which enabled households to be flagged as 'cautionary contact'. The council said it did not routinely collect the ages of residents, but that the average length of time on the database was three-and-a-half years.
  • Hammersmith and Fulham said more than half of its 109 records related to violence. Some 16 service users were female, included for racial abuse, violence and threatening behaviour. A male client was included on the list due to having two guns at his address.
  • Haringey's 'Persons of Concern Reporting System' featured five people, including a persistent caller who made contact roughly 20 times a day. According to the council: "Random allegations made about staff ... Often muddled conversations which at first sound credible then quickly deteriorate. Male and female accents used. On the days he calls, the calls come in very quick succession/repeatedly."
  • Harrow council, which provided information related to council tax only, showed four records of service users threatening violence, including one with a gun.
  • Havering council said any record referred to verbal abuse within the customer services department.
  • Hillingdon council had 29 records, but did not mention their ages or the nature of the potential threat.
  • Islington council said the longest time spent on its register was currently five years. The vast majority (146) of its 175 records were for violence and threats. One had a "claw hammer placed above curtain to fall on person or intruder", while another "attacked a patient while visiting someone at the hospital".
  • Kensington and Chelsea recorded 32 incidents, including a racial episode in which a woman expressed anti-Muslim views and wanted to choose the ethnic origin of the officer she was to be dealt with by. A second person also repeatedly unleashed racial abuse at council staff.
  • Kingston council said there were 35 people on its CCL, with all but two of the records for violence or threatening behaviour. The file included a note for all female council staff to be wary of a 67-year-old man who made racial or sexual remarks.
  • Lambeth council featured 125 records, including nine for dangerous pets, while 38 had a "do not visit" marker. In one case an electrician was locked in a property when he visited to inspect a report of no electricity and found a large debit on the electric meter. He pretended he needed a fuse from the van and ventured his escape. Staff were warned about another tenant with mental health issues who carries a baton for "protection", while council employees were warned against making further visits for the time being after a tenant was discovered as having weapons in the property including a machete, catapult and axe.
  • Merton council said seven people were kept on a log of people banned from its council premises, although there were no ages or further details.
  • Newham said it had 70 records, but no further detail.
  • Sutton council said it had 60 records, all for threats of violence, with 47 of them having a marker warning staff not to conduct solo visits - if at all.
  • Waltham Forest council had six records, including a warning to staff because a service user's accommodation "was not safe for quick escape".
  • Buckinghamshire reported 381 people on its list, with 145 of them being over the age of 65. Two of the 381 recorded a risk of abduction or kidnap, while eight had an "environmental hazard" within the property. Seven had a weapon on the premises, while four were known to carry weapons.
  • Cumbria council recorded 2,924 people on its system. The overwhelming majority (2,473) were violence-related records, while 263 were for a dangerous animal. The council said people spent an average of 195 weeks on its system.
  • Derbyshire had 766 records, including 137 related to sexual harassment, and 519 for violence or threatening behaviour. The oldest person on their list was a 94-year-old.
  • Dorset said it had 12 entries on its CCL, one of which arose from a complaint about the council seizing possession of the service user's burger van. Another arose from complaints against the council including the social care of their children, alleged verbal abuse from a lollipop person and roadworks taking place in the road where they live. The council said the person had a long history of verbally abusing staff indiscriminately, including shouting, ranting, swearing and unfounded accusations, both over the telephone and in reception areas. Another inclusion on the CCL arose from several years of contact with the Highways department and others, plus numerous Freedom of Information requests, regarding highway issues at the area where they live. Both contact with Highways and FOI requests usually included complaints and accusations of low-quality work.
  • Essex said 13 children aged seven and under were included on its list. This included a four-year-old deemed physically or sexually threatening, as well as two three-year-olds for being violent to staff or other professionals. The youngest people on their list were three one-year-olds, for being consistently verbally threatening, and for violence. At the other end of the scale, a 103-year-old was included on the list for being physically or sexually threatening. The person had been on the list since June 2009. A 46-year-old had been on the list, again for being physically or sexually threatening, since January 2001, the authority said. In a statement, the authority said young children included on the list had been flagged "as a result of concerns about other people in their households/families".
  • Hampshire's Adults' Health and Care had 2,267 on the social care system with hazard markers. These included hazards such as "potentially aggressive", "verbally aggressive" and "potentially violent". The average age of these adults was 44. These hazards had been open for an average of 6.6 years. The earliest one recorded was from 1986.
  • Lancashire council had eight records for Adult Social Care users, aged 25 to 75.
  • Leicestershire council had 877 adults on a list of service users at risk of being potentially aggressive or abusive. The majority of these (380) were for "challenging behaviour towards others". The majority (564) of the 877 had been on for two years or more.
  • Lincolnshire had a Mosaic Recording System of 1,730 individuals who may pose a threat to council staff when coming into contact with them. The most heavily populated age group was those aged 41-50, followed by the 31-40 category. Some 94 were aged 76 and over, with seven aged 10-15. The most frequent risk type was for a "person posing risk - level three - Contact Children's safeguarding unit".
  • North Yorkshire featured six children under 10 and four aged 100 and over, the oldest being 104, with 608 in total. The gender breakdown saw 80 men on the list compared with 34 women, where a record was made, with 238 marked "do not visit / alone". Some 285 were marked for violence, with 18 animal-related.
  • Somerset council said there were seven people on its Registered Contact Central Register, which lists details of customers who have displayed unacceptable behaviour. One included a "disgruntled ex-employee who has been abusive and persistent. A single point of contact has been identified".
  • Suffolk council said there were 2,377 people on its register, with 163 of the records for violence, although the vast majority were unspecified. 12 referred to dangerous pets.
  • Surrey council recorded 435 as potential risks to others in Adult Social Care, with a further seven in relation to planning enforcement. Of those, one previously grabbed a policewoman, while another stabbed someone while he was in hospital. Another was said to be an extortionist who made threats about police officers, while one - a serial fly-tipper - was said to be "aggressive and with no respect for any authority". Another - known for "extreme violence" - was said to keep a samurai sword over his front door, a mallet by his bed, and was involved in drugs, bare knuckle fighting, and firearms.
  • Warwickshire council had two people with flags on its Customer Services Team (responsible for libraries, registration and one stop shops), aged 17 and 48. Both were banned from customer services premises for three months. The Adult Team - responsible for adult social care - had 1,023 service users. This included 34 aged 86-95, and 10 over 95. Some 44 had been on the list for more than 15 years.
  • West Sussex council's youngest marker was against a 10-year-old, using social services, due to a "potential risk". The child was on the list for just over two years. A 16-year-old was also on the list for more than six years due to "threats of violence". A service user a year younger was included for nearly two years due to "actual violence". The oldest person on the list was a 95-year-old, due to "threats of violence". The longest-serving member of the list was a 27-year-old, for 13 years due to "actual violence".
  • In Brighton and Hove, 234 people were registered on their Clients of Concern Register, aged between 18 and over 80.
  • The Special Interest Register in Central Bedfordshire listed 1,121 people between the ages of five and 106. One in five records involved Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (for violent and sexual offenders), two were for ASBOs and 33 were for dangerous pets.
  • Cornwall council's cautionary contacts list featured 163 people, of whom six were down for possessing a gun, and 40 for physical abuse. Some 97 were listed for verbal abuse.
  • Luton council listed 33 logs in its Housing Warning Register, of which 18 advised staff against making solo visits. The list also included one entry under "religious fundamentalism", one restraining order, one individual threatening to stab themselves and one "diagnosed schizophrenic".
  • Milton Keynes held lists across council departments including the youth offending team, customer contact team, legal, adult social care team, children's social care and the housing department. In one case, an 81-year-old tenant "wielded a machete at care workers", while a 93-year-old had been kept on since 2006 under the entry: "Beware-vicious dog". Six entries were a "risk to women", two were a warning to men against visiting alone, and 16 were logged as having mental health issues. Five people were included for excessive demands and volume of correspondence.
  • North East Lincolnshire council listed 12 people in its cautionary contact database, 11 of which were either for threatening behaviour or physical assault, and included one "property-related" incident.
  • One person was excluded from Peterborough council property for "threatening behaviour towards officers" and "verbally assaulting an officer" over a two-day period.
  • At least 3,700 "alerts" were recorded across Plymouth council. Roughly one in four entries were in the "unborn to 18" age group, while 30% were aged 41 - 60. Reasons included missing children, risk to children, those subject to child protection or missing adults.
  • Entries on the cautionary contacts list at South Gloucestershire council included a client detaining a social worker against her will, another attempting to run two CEOs over with his van, and one man threatening to stab a member of staff if anyone called him. Another entry mentioned a client "gave chase" with a weapon, while another "remains a risk" as he "particularly focuses on women".
  • Telford and Wrekin council held an "extreme violence" entry from August 1995, and out of almost 200 entries, roughly 90% were violence-related. The remaining offences were related to sexual assault.
  • Warrington featured a 20-year-old for "risk of violence". A six- and seven-year-old were also logged under "risk to staff". A total of 454 entries were logged, of which 80% were violence-related.
  • West Berkshire held 88 logs, most of which were for verbal abuse, and four entries relating to sexual assault.
  • Wiltshire council logged 179 clients across council departments, under categories including verbal abuse, improper behaviour or physical violence towards employees.
  • Three entries were logged by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, including two for "excessive, obscene and abusive emails to officers".
  • Wokingham Borough council held 39 logs, of which almost 75% were violence-related, including one death threat. Around 10% of entries were related to a dangerous dog.
  • City of York council held 441 entries in their Staff Warning Register, of which more than one in three (161) were Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements and 40 had notes saying "aggressive or threatening in person".
  • Barnsley council held 83 entries across council departments.
  • Five disclosure notices at Bradford council were registered sex offenders, while eight were entered under "risk to children/public".
  • Calderdale council recorded 52 separate incidents, including eight ASBOs.
  • Six people were logged as threatening a member of staff on Coventry council's potentially violent people register.
  • Doncaster council recorded 99 people, one of which had up to 11 incidents against their name. Four known sex offenders were also logged.
  • Kirklees council recorded 157 in the year to September 2017, including 125 violence-related entries, one "threat to women" and five "mental health issues".
  • In Knowsley, 101 incidents were logged, including 16 for self-harm, four under dangerous pets, and three under "poses a threat to children". All were aged between 19 and 93.
  • Manchester council recorded 106 "potentially violent persons" in their Homelessness Service IT database, between the ages of 16 and over 75.
  • Some 33 people were recorded as being excluded from all Newcastle libraries and customer service centres, of which 31 were male, and a further 648 "potential risk indicators" were recorded under the local housing management organisation. In one case, a three-year-old was logged under a Category 1 assault i.e. "where there was an actual or attempted assault". In separate entries, an eight-year-old and a 98-year-old were on the list for a category 3 assault, described as "where verbal/visual or social media abuse was directed personally at an individual" or where a client "has been known to misinterpret information given".
  • North Tyneside council recorded 104 people on their Potentially Violent Persons register.
  • Rotherham logged 11 "threats" in databases across the council.
  • St Helens council logged some 1619 "warning markers", the majority of which were categorised as "Risk to Child/Young Person" or "Potentially Violent or threatening behaviour".
  • Sandwell council included hundreds of examples from several departments, including clients logged for "Threats to Kill", punching a social worker and one client was recorded as "exposing himself to workers".
  • Some 95 people recorded on Care First, the social care client system for Solihull Council, were disclosed. Of these, 46 were violence-related.
  • Wakefield council logged 72 people in its Strategic Alert Register.
  • Walsall logged 804 clients, the majority of which advised council workers to not visit alone, or were deemed "abusive to staff".
  • In total, 280 people were recorded on Wigan council's hazard lists across Council Tax services and Adult Social Care.
  • In Bedford, 40 cases were logged on the council's High Risk Register, of which 25 were "part of an ongoing police matter".
  • Blackpool council held a Corporate Warning Register containing 33 names.
  • In Bournemouth, the average duration of each case on the Cautionary Contacts List lasted three-and-a-half years. There were 323 entries across Housing Services, Social Services, Electoral Services and Environmental Services.
  • Some 93% of all cases at Thurrock council were clearly labelled as "do not visit alone". Of 15 entries, 13 involved "threatening behaviour".
  • Slough recorded 35 individuals on their internal "in-check" system, all under "violent or very aggressive behaviour".
  • Bristol council keeps a Corporate Safety System, of which there are 322 flags under the following categories: physical violence, credible threat, dangerous animal and police notification.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire.