Monday, 20 October 2014

Will the police ever keep up with the explosion in online paedophile viewing of abuse images?

Keith Bristow giving evidence to Home Affairs SC
I have just been asked to go on BBC News 24 to give my opinion on today's topline news story which headlines:-

"Some paedophiles with images of child abuse will escape prosecution, the head of the National Crime Agency says.

Keith Bristow said police would have to focus on pursuing those who posed most risk but that others would face a "range of interventions".

Some 660 arrests were made during a recent operation targeting people who had accessed child abuse images online.

However, the BBC understands that as many as 20,000-30,000 individuals were identified during that investigation.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) - part of the NCA - has estimated that 50,000 people in the UK are involved in downloading and sharing images of child abuse."

It is, on the one hand shocking and a disgrace that so many viewers of child abuse images will go undetected when the evidence is at hand. The survivor groups will be up in arms demanding better service from the police.

This story has arisen from the evidence given by Keith Bristow - the head of the National Crime Agency - to the Home Affairs Select Committee, who are looking into the workings of the Agency. They heard evidence on 14th October..

When one peels back the evidence beyond the shocking headlines, one finds that the police have suffered cut backs under this government such that they do not have the staff to cope with the huge volume of new complaints which have arisen from a Toronto Police investigation in July 2012. NCA appear to have sat on the information sent from Canada on 2000 men until it was distributed to local police force areas in November 2013.

When the information arrived it had to be processed and considered, which obviously takes time when one considers the lack of resources.

Because of the amount of viewing of child abuse images world wide, and the potential number of internet offences being committed, even if the police had limitless resources they would only be able to scratch the surface of the crimes being committed, so immense is the problem.

I remember back in 1995 when the Internet was being born, a friend of mine, who sadly is no longer with us, was complaining about how dangerous the internet was for children. Then the dangers were simply surrounding some fairly crude internet chat rooms. I was arguing with him saying that the benefit of the internet in terms of free information far outweighed the dangers. Had I known then, what I know now, I would probably have agreed with his view, rather than calling it old fashioned and dinosaurian. 

There is no price on child safety which is now being given a higher priority than it has enjoyed in the past thanks to pressure being exerted by the many survivor and pressure groups nationwide. The size of the task facing the police, however is immense, and one must have some sympathy with their good intentions.

There are questions about what can be done by the Social Network providers such as Facebook and Twitter to police their mediums. There is always an argument about freedome of information and the press. The problem is that many of the ISP's which host this information are located in parts of the globe which regulatory authorities cannot touch or police. The problem is like pouring water through a sieve with very large holes in it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and complaining because all the liquid is escaping.

Austerity and financial restraint by government bodies is laudable, and understandable, but sometimes, certain issues simply do not have a price, such is the importance of the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. Teresa May should give the problem the money and the backing it deserves.

We are due to see the head of the historical abuse inquiry examined by the HASC tomorrow - that should be interesting. Rumour has it that the panel is also about to be announced but is being held back by the forthcoming evidence to be given.

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