Authors to boycott UK schools over sex register

LONDON Thu Jul 16, 2009 6:53pm IST

British author Philip Pullman prepares to deliver a speech on English poet John Milton at the opening of The Citizen Milton Exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, southeast England December 7, 2007. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

British author Philip Pullman prepares to deliver a speech on English poet John Milton at the opening of The Citizen Milton Exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, southeast England December 7, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

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LONDON (Reuters) - Award-winning children's author Philip Pullman said on Thursday he would stop visiting schools in England because of an "absurd" rule forcing him to register first with a government anti-pedophile database.

Pullman, writer of the "Dark Materials" trilogy, said he was never alone with pupils and a teacher was always present.

"Why should I have to pay 64 pounds to a government agency to give me a certificate saying I am not a pedophile?," Pullman, 62, told BBC radio. "It's actually quite dispiriting and sinister."

Pullman, whose books have been adapted for television and film, including 2007's "The Golden Compass," said it was unfortunate that children would miss out because of his boycott but said he was not to blame.

"It's the fault of the government that set up this absurd rule," he said.

From October adults working with children on a regular basis will have to register with a vetting database run by the government's Independent Safeguarding Authority.

It is the latest measure to improve child safety following the murder of two 10-year-old schoolgirls by Ian Huntley in Soham, Cambridgeshire in 2002, whose criminal record had been missed when he was hired as their school caretaker.

But the new rules also apply to writers such as Pullman who pay regular visits to schools, a Home Office spokesman confirmed.

Other children's authors backed Pullman's stand, saying they would stop visiting schools if they had to register on the database, the Independent newspaper reported.

Anthony Horowitz, who wrote the "Alex Rider" spy novels, told the paper the scheme was "ludicrous."

Former children's laureate Anne Fine said: "I will only work in foreign schools, where sanity prevails."

Roald Dahl illustrator Quentin Blake said the government was guilty of a "grotesque misunderstanding," while author Michael Morpurgo said the database was a "nonsense."

The government said it would be irresponsible to allow adults to work regularly with young children without conducting background checks.

"This applies as much to famous authors as it does to cleaners, administrative staff and visiting firemen," said a spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

(Reporting by Catherine Bosley)

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