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At last, we're innocent until proven guilty again

All men are rapists' was the pernicious slogan of radical feminists in the 1970s. 'All adults are paedophiles' has been the governing rule of authority in the past decade.

The two assertions are as false as each other and just as damaging, for they fill people with anger, fear and corrosive suspicion.

Society can't function without trust. Nor can individuals. We might be scared, in the abstract, of a paedophile taking advantage of our child, but do we really think that the nice mother of our son's playmate is going to put her hand down his pants during a school trip?

Of course not. So why should it ever have been necessary for her to undergo an expensive and intrusive Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check before she was allowed to give up her free time to help supervise the class on the bus?

It is deeply insulting to treat people as potential paedophiles when, out of sheer goodness, they want to help others.

At the moment, anyone who has contact with children, even just helping out with the football club or arranging the flowers in a cathedral, has to go through the CRB procedure.

It was one of the most ill-thought-out and socially damaging laws that the last Government brought in. Now, thankfully, the coalition's Protection of Freedoms Bill will lift the requirement for all but those with 'close or regular' contact, taking more than four million volunteers out of the net.

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At the crudest level, it has hurt the very people it was supposed to protect. Adults have been deterred from volunteering, not because they have convictions for kiddy-fiddling but because they don't.

The last thing most adults want to do with kiddies is fiddle with them. The assumption that they might even consider it makes them understandably livid. Why should they volunteer if they are going to be treated like dirt?

The reason child-murders and sexual attacks get so much news coverage when they happen is precisely because they are so rare. To treat the innocent 99% of us as potential Ian Huntleys is as grossly disproportionate as putting handcuffs on everyone who enters a bank in case they plan to rob it.

As a nation, we're obsessed with paedophilia. Do we really want to live in a society where a teacher can't sit a five-year-old on her knee and give him a cuddle when he's crying?

Do we really want to live in a Crucible-like climate in which fingers of suspicion are pointed at wholly innocent people? We were shocked by the anti-Communist hysteria which swept 1950s America, yet we failed to prevent the anti-paedophile hysteria taking root in our own country.

This climate is really bad for adults and children alike. All the international studies show that countries with high levels of social trust tend to have lower crime and happier, more engaged citizens. And the more people engage, the more they come to understand that most strangers are as benevolent as they are. Yet the proportion of Britons agreeing that 'most people can be trusted' has halved since the 1950s - and young people are the most mistrustful of all.

It's not a good idea to be completely credulous, but a default position of trust, tempered by commonsense, is all we need to rub along together well.

That was how my generation saw adults when we were children. You need to learn to discern; it's a useful skill for adulthood. It's a lot better than relying on a piece of paper, which might anyway clear a paedo who has never been caught by the police. Thank goodness ministers have at last seen sense.

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