Southwark Council is counting the cost to its reputation after hiring a woman who had been imprisoned for helping a failed suicide bomber. Mulumbet Girma served five years in prison, from 2008 to 2013, after pleading guilty to assisting her brother-in-law Hussein Osman in his attempt to flee the country.

Background Check

Osman was jailed for life after a failed suicide bombing attempt on the London Underground which took place just a few weeks after the 7/7 bombings. Girma was found guilty of both assisting him as he attempted to flee to and failing to disclose information about his crimes to the authorities. Shortly after being released from prison, she applied for a job with the council, but their HR team failed to carry out basic DBS checks, despite her ticking a box that said she had criminal convictions. 

Three-Way Dispute over Blame

The council is now involved in a dispute with its former HR Director, Bernard Nawrat, over who was responsible for the error, as well as with Girma herself, who has appointed a firm of solicitors to represent her. A council spokesperson saying that proper procedures were not followed, as the conviction she alluded to on her first application should have been investigated further and reviewed by the HR director. Nawrat, who left the council two years ago, denies he was to blame.

Southwark Council have said that Mulumbet did not disclose the full extent of her history, but her solicitors dispute this and claim that she has served her sentence. The case has raised further questions, as many of the council’s staff have access to lists of vulnerable people.

Mistakes in Full View

To make matters worse, the council featured her on the cover of its housing news magazine, advertising its apprenticeship scheme. Mulumbet initially joined the council’s housing department and continued working there until 2017. Once her story was picked up by local and national media, the council quickly dismissed her.

The case highlights the need for organisations to carry out basic DBS checks on all positions, even those that are seen as junior non-public-facing roles. Smaller companies without access to perform these checks should consider making use of services provided by a responsible organisation such as http://www.carecheck.co.uk/basic-dbs-checks/ to vet new employees.