Change is required if
Online Offenders are going to be caught
# Government policing cuts means that’s many sex
offenders offend without the fear of getting caught.
# Set up 5 regional ‘Hubs’ and use volunteer as
# NCA & Police need to urgently change its risk assessment
# Industry needs to play a far bigger role in fighting child
The Government has consistently reduced resources and funding to the
police so much so that many online child sex offenders can now offend
without the fear of getting caught. It is sadly the reality that up
until now no senior police officer has been bold enough to say.
Although let’s be clear this is not something new - the police
& the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) long
before they became part of the National Crime Agency in 2013 have
been losing the online battle against child sex offenders.
Last week (20/10/2014) the Head of the National
Crime Agency, Keith Bristow admitted
50,000 online offenders who have
downloaded child abuse images exist - then currently many will not
all be prosecuted.
I think its many more than 50,000 in UK alone that exist and recent
operations and intelligence would look to confirm this.
Put simply – ‘some
offenders that are downloading child abuse images although known to
the police won’t be brought to justice.’
The problem is at an epidemic level, however I believe with a new
approach, the fight against online child sex offenders can be won.
I have huge respect for Mr Bristow the Head of the National Crime
Agency. His bold approach and straight talking is refreshing- but he
is wrong to say they just have to go after those that are committing
'contact offences' by risk assessing through images.
I understand the reason that this has been decided
as the ‘risk model’ because it enables them and police to
prioritise. However in my experience, the
massive danger, and it is a very real danger, is those who download
the lower level of child abuse images, are often the most high risk
contact offenders. This is also the opinion of many others working in
It is a risk assessment model that needs to urgently change because
it is wrong.
A far better risk assessment model applied to each suspect would be
to undertake a quick assessment to establish what access the
individual may have to children. This could be either in work, family
or leisure environments.
With the advances in information gathering through technology,
obtaining such detail through open source (Internet) as well as
police, local authority housing, health and social services can be
achieved very quickly.
The key to offending behaviour in this area is ‘Access’
to a child and ‘Opportunity’ to offend. My proposed risk
assessment model is a far better tool to use to identify ‘contact’
child sex offenders.
The NCA and police need to urgently stop prioritising cases on
images found - but instead focus on the ‘Access’ the
offender has or may have to children.
So what can be done? I think a dynamic victim centric approach is
the answer and as such I would propose the following all of which are
achievable - but do require a commitment to really want to effect
Regional Hubs & International Operations
I would break up the Child Exploitation & Online Protection
service (CEOP) and create ‘five regional hubs’: one in
Wales and four in England to cover the North, East, West and South.
One hub would take the role of being the central point for
International referrals – making quick assessments on
intelligence and passing simple packages to the relevant regional
I would give each hub the responsibility to pro-actively investigate
and respond to international and national large scale operations. For
example Operation Slade and Notarise would have been sent out as
packages to each region to act upon and NOT to local police forces.
As of this week (28/10/2014) Operation Notarise which was a peer2peer
based operation - had resulted in the arrest of 704 individuals.
Although the NCA will not confirm how many IP addresses and
subsequently nominal’s have been identified during this pro-
active operation - it is likely to be anywhere between 5,000 and
30,000 separate IP addresses.
In the same way that Op. Slade has now blown up and identified
significant law enforcement failings- sadly on the current risk
assessment model it is only a matter of time before Op. Notarise will
do the same.
Operation Slade now shows - the existing and currently used risk
based assessment failed. Because is assessed risk on the nature of
the images found linked to each individual - rather than on the
‘access’ the individual had to children. This meant that
a teacher, doctor and sports coach were amongst those allowed to
continue offending until they were finally arrested and prosecuted.
I would recruit and train up volunteers who would become 'covert
investigators'. They would be responsible for pro-actively engaging
with and targeting those offenders who are using the Internet and
social media to exchange child abuse material or are grooming who
they think are children to meet up with and abuse. They would be
managed by a very small number of employed experienced former police
In addition each hub would have 30 police officers and warranted
specials whose role it is to go and arrest and process offenders.
They would do all in house investigations and forensic analysis,
linking in with individual police forces when necessary.
The hubs would employ 20 dedicated intelligence officers (civilians).
These can be both paid and volunteers to put together the packages
using the new risk assessment model that I propose above.
Crucially each hub would have 10 forensic
examiners with the necessary equipment provided free by industry to
undertake their own examinations.
The hubs would utilize the existing funding the NCA receives for
online child abuse and be additional funded by a five year Home
Office commitment. Industry would also provide the vital
resources for all the equipment as well as a financial commitment.
Each police force would continue undertaking its own re-active and
local proactive intelligence led operations. They would however no
longer take on any national or international packages.
Forces would be able to call on their own respective ‘hub’
if the investigation becomes or requires a larger national focus.
Each force would have a designated intelligence officer that would
meet regularly with other local forces and his/her own hub to share
information and intelligence.
No additional funding would be required by police forces and the
creation of the hub would allow forces to have a much more targeted
approach to developing their own investigations.
Criminal Justice System
Every offender prosecuted for downloading child abuse material will
receive an immediate minimum one year term of imprisonment. On
conviction for a second time the sentence will increase to a minimum
of three years.
Many will argue prisons are already overcrowded but there is an
argument for non violent offenders to be released or given community
service which would dramatically reduce numbers overnight. I would
make community sentences far more effective with those convicted
wearing high visibility orange jackets and carrying out far more
I would provide a two year treatment programme for every offender of
which they initially commence whilst in prison and then continue in
community based programmes. This desire is probably the most
difficult to achieve because it really would require a joined up
approach with the criminal justice and probation systems at the same
time when the probation service is under the threat of huge cuts and
Known ‘Hash Value’ of images
A picture has a unique “Hash Value” which once identified
and collected can be used to digitally match the same image wherever
it is distributed.
We need to pull together the various databases of hash values and
create one global list of known child abuse images hash values thus
ensuring it is regularly updated and circulated
I would make this global list more available in order to prevent and
deter offenders from being able to access child abuse images. I would
also ensure all computer manufacturers are provided with the known
hash values and regular updates which would be automatically updated
to all computers.
A built in programme would mean that if the user downloads a known
child abuse image then the computer would go to 'blue screen' with a
warning and stop working.
This would be a very simple effective control of images from being
The circulation of a global list of hash values to the social media
sites such as Vine, Twitter and Facebook would also help. If the user
tries to upload or share a known child abuse image then the user's
account would be blocked. To unblock their account they would be
required to contact an administrator who will already know the reason
for the blocking.
The same would apply to all major Internet search engines to help
prevent searching for an uploading known child abuse images.
Policing is vital in this area but they will need
to work closely with Industry and the Criminal Justice System in
order to fight this epidemic. We need online child sex offenders to
be aware that every time they go online to download an image or chat
with a person they believe is a child they run a very
real risk of being caught.
And finally the most controversial method of disruption would be to
infect users computers who have downloaded or distributed known child
abuse material via a Trojan house. This would of course contravene
our human rights and upset the liberals. But it would be a very
effective way of targeting the many thousands of people identified as
abusers on peer-2-peer.
If the Government and police chiefs are really serious about tackling
online child abusers, most of whom are also contact offenders, then
we need to change the way we police offenders urgently.
Sadly in this country we are very bad at implementing preventative
methods – for example: we wait until a number of very serious
accidents occur or people die - before we take action on a stretch of
Yet some people will have a desire to offend or a fantasy to offend
which they have not yet carried out – also some offenders will
know they are about to re-offend – yet for these people little
or nothing exist. I would like to see centers locally funded to help
those people who are about to offend against children allowing them
to receive treatment and close supervision - an intervention to stop
them from offending.
We need to move to an approach of saving children before they are
abused – rather than responding afterwards - as is the current
We will not police are way out of this epidemic – police need
to adopt a new risk assessment model – a new approach through
regional hubs – a change in the criminal justice sentencing and
treatment programmes and vitally a preventative strategy.
This is not pie in the sky thinking – it is all achievable –
but what we need is policing chiefs and the Government to start
listening and making changes.
Mark Williams-Thomas MA (October 2014)