‘Not all paedophiles’ face justice

Published: Monday 20th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Not all suspected paedophiles can be brought to justice, one of Britain’s crime-fighting chiefs has admitted.

National Crime Agency (NCA) director general Keith Bristow said it was “uncomfortable” to accept that some of the 50,000 people in the UK who regularly access indecent images of children will not end up in the criminal justice system.

Mr Bristow said law enforcement agencies must focus on the greatest risk offenders, which at the top end are criminals who directly sexually abuse children, meaning that the lower risk suspects may fall through the net.

He said: “I don’t think I can be more candid than say, if there are 50,000 people involved in this particularly horrible type of criminality, I don’t believe that all 50,000 will end up in the criminal justice system being brought to justice.

“Our responsibility is to focus on the greatest risk and tackle those people.

“But the wider responsibility that falls to all of us is to stop people getting involved in this activity, to help young people protect themselves and to work hard to understand the totality of the problem so where we are arresting people and bringing them to justice that’s mitigating as much risk to young people as possible.

“That’s uncomfortable. But these are the uncomfortable conversations we need to have.”

It has previously been estimated in the NCA’s national intelligence assessment that in 2013 there were 50,000 people regularly accessing indecent images of children.

Mr Bristow went on: “But the reality is everyone who accesses an indecent image of a child, the idea that every single one of them is going to go into the criminal justice process, is not realistic.

“As abhorrent as even the lower risk part of this is, and it’s still abhorrent and it’s still horrible, particularly when seen alongside other things like acquisitive crime, we’re going to have to start thinking differently about not just how we pursue these people but how we prevent people perpetrating this particular form of horribleness.”

He added: ” What we can’t do is start at number one and work through to 50,000.

“What we have to do is apply a logic based on law enforcement experience, and academic support, to work through and try and find the highest risk that sits within that and our contention is the highest risk are those people who go on or have the propensity to commit contact abuse, which is right at the high end.

“And that’s the challenge we’ve got.”

Last summer, more than 650 suspected paedophiles were arrested as part of a six-month NCA operation targeting people accessing child abuse images online.

Among the 660 arrested under Operation Notarise were teachers, medical staff, former police officers, a social services worker and scout leader. Most have been bailed and an update is expected early 2015.

More than 1,000 digital media devices were seized as part of Notarise.

The Agency now believes more than 1,000 children have been protected as a result.

Mr Bristow said crime-fighters are beginning to understand how the methodology used by paedophiles has changed.

“These people want to minimise the risk, they see the Internet and are interacting with young people online as a way of doing that in a way which minimises the risk,” he said. ” I think we’ve got a serious problem – by we, I don’t just mean the NCA, as a society there’s a worldwide problem.”

The NCA has recently come under fire for delays that the Child Exploitation Online Protection centre (Ceop), which falls within the Agency, in handing over information it received in July 2012 on suspected paedophiles from Canadian Police. Among them were disgraced Cambridgeshire medic Myles Bradbury and teachers Martin Goldberg and Gareth Williams, who both secretly filmed children.

Mr Bristow said the Spade cases had shown that the risk assessment process is not a “perfect science”.

Mr Bristow said: “This is very uncomfortable for us. Because what happened in Ceop may have resulted in some children being exposed to risk and maybe even abused that otherwise might not have been in the circumstances had dissemination been sooner.”

“But when you try and risk assess the images, those images didn’t depict sexual contact or abuse,” said.

“They were erotic images of children. I’m not saying that’s OK, far from it, but it is relatively lower risk than some of what we receive in other images.”

He went on: “Trying to work our way thorough that, prioritise a response, is what we have to do.

“That requires us to make risk based judgment but highly trained professionals and sometimes given that the risk assessment is based on the data or images received, sometimes we’re going to find it’s not a perfect science.

Deputy director general Phil Gormley said an “enormous” amount of digital media was acquired in Operation Notarise.

Mr Gormley said: “Not every viewer will go on to be a contact abuser.

“It’s an area of criminality where we need to understand much better. We need to work much more closely with academics to understand how do you spot signals, what are additional risk factors, that’s the sort of work we’re doing now.”

He added: “We need a much more nuanced, much more sustainable approach to this and we need to confront some really unpleasant and horrible truths about human nature.”

Published: Monday 20th October 2014 by The News Editor

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