Police criticised over warning letters to internet paedophiles

Police has been criticised over sending warning letters to people who have downloaded child porn.

Tuesday, 9th February 2016, 5:44 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 10:14 pm

Sussex Police confirmed the letters were handed out to some of 24 suspected offenders officers visited since November 2015, prompting accusations it was not protecting children from sexual abuse.

Patrick Lowe, UKIP’s prospective candidate for Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner, said the cautions ‘would simply be thrown in the bin’.

Sussex Police Paedophile On-Line Investigation Team (POLIT) uses surveilance powers to track people who have download or trafficked in indecent images of children.

A police spokesman said POLIT visited people whose internet addresses had been linked with images at the lowest level of seriousness to deter them from offending and dedicate police resources to people linked with more serious images.

Detective Chief Inspector Pierre Serra said: “Every indecent image of a child abuse represents an image of abuse, and offenders should be in no doubt that we use every lawful investigative technique to track them down.

“We will continue to identify individuals engaged in this type of activity, and using intelligence we will continue to execute warrants to secure evidence and support prosecutions wherever appropriate.

“In taking this extra step we have consulted with the force’s Independent Advisory Group (IAG) and with the three independent Local Safeguarding Childrens Boards (LSCB) in Sussex.”

A police spokesman said: “This helps the team to focus on offenders who are suspected of acquiring the more serious level of images, and those who may attempt or succeed in carrying out on-line or direct ‘contact’ offending against children.

“Whenever officers identify the suspected source of downloading indecent images of children, intelligence and background checks are carried out along with formal risk assessments to find out if there is any previous history of offending, the level of the images and especially to discover if any children are at risk, on-line or directly.

“If it is appropriate a visit will take place, and following assessment of issues including; the images are at the lowest level, there is no history of offending and that no children are at risk, then consideration is given to issuing verbal advice, and sometimes a warning letter.

“The advice, sometimes accompanied by a letter, is an early warning stating that police have information making it clear that someone connected to an Internet Protocol (IP) address has accessed indecent images of children, even though at present the individual responsible for the suspected activity linked to the IP address may not have been identified, but that research has been carried out to identify any local child safeguarding concerns.

“Officers tell the IP owner that if they are aware of this unlawful behaviour they should take measures to ensure it stops immediately, and that any further reports to police linked to the same address or any of the occupants may lead to arrest, recovery and forensic examination of all computer equipment and storage devices and potentially prosecution.

“Officers may also give advice about computer security, and about sources of support for anyone affected in any way by such images and by child sexual exploitation.”

She added: “All police forces use a variety of techniques to identify IP information which show that indecent images of children have been downloaded. The way in which this is done and then investigated is confidential but all such work is carried out lawfully, and under the authority of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) whenever required.

“Details of the tactics used to identify offenders are not being disclosed in order to protect their effectiveness in future investigations. We understand the interest in how we go about pursuing offenders, but further revealing specific investigative methods can hinder us in our biggest priority, which is keeping children safe from those who seek to abuse them.

“One tactic available to POLIT officers is to visit some people whose Internet addresses are suspected of being involved with images at the lowest level of seriousness, to show them the police are aware, and are watching, and to deter continuance. Those visits, of which there have been 24 since November last year, sometimes include handing warning letters to the subject.”

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