Inquiries continue two years after UK given list of suspected paedophiles

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Mark Tran,The Guardian
Police chiefs have faced criticism for failing to act quickly enough on information garnered from sting operation

Police forces in the UK are still investigating almost 300 suspected paedophilia cases more than two years after information from an extensive sting operation was first passed to child exploitation services by Canadian police in July 2012.

Inquiries continue two years after UK given list of suspected paedophiles

Among the 21 UK forces that were able to provide a detailed breakdown of cases arising from Project Spade, 271 investigations are still in progress. The figures, obtained by the Press Association, also showed that from 724 referrals, 34 people had been charged and five had accepted cautions.

The Metropolitan police said it had made 31 arrests after receiving referrals concerning 193 people. Four had been charged and 20 were on bail pending inquiries. Investigations were continuing in relation to 36 of the remaining 162 referrals.

Police chiefs across England and Wales have come under criticism for failing to act quickly enough on information garnered from Project Spade, which caught more than 2,300 people purchasing explicit footage of naked teenage boys over the internet.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has ordered chief constables to review how they handled material that was passed on by the National Crime Agency (NCA) in November 2013 concerning alleged child abusers in their area. The nationwide review follows two high-profile cases where police were accused of failing to act on intelligence arising out of Project Spade.

Essex police failed for nine months to act on information concerning Martin Goldberg, a deputy headmaster at Thorpe Hall school in Southend. Goldberg, 46, was found to have covertly filmed scores of schoolboys before killing himself on 10 September when he realised police were investigating him. In a separate Project Spade case, it emerged that Myles Bradbury, a cancer specialist at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge, had been brought to the attention of police before he admitted a string of offences against child patients in his care last month.

Three forces – the NCA, North Yorkshire police and Essex police – have referred themselves to the police watchdog over their handling of Project Spade. The list of suspected paedophiles was passed to the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) by Toronto police in July 2012.

Ceop, which became part of the NCA in October 2013, failed to disseminate the intelligence to local forces until November 2013. Keith Bristow, the head of the NCA, apologised last week for any harm caused to children as a result of the delays in the information being passed to police.

He told the Commons home affairs select committee: “I’m sorry if that’s led to harm to children or exposing them to risk because that’s not what we stand for. Sitting on data for the period of time between July 2012 and November 2013, that could have led to children being protected or safeguarded, seems to me whether it’s systemic or it’s down to individuals – and there are certainly some systemic issues that we need to work through – that’s not in the spirit of what we stand for.”

Jon Brown, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said: “We appreciate these are complex investigations with no easy decisions and that the police are under enormous pressure dealing with the volume of these offences. But it’s essential that offenders are quickly identified and authorities take the necessary steps to protect any children they may be in contact with.”

Child protection expert Jim Gamble, who was chief executive of Ceop until he resigned in 2010, said that the workload for investigators had trebled since his time at the agency and warned that similar delays could happen again.

“These mistakes correlate directly to the lack of investment that has been made in child protection resources, especially in areas where the internet is involved,” he said. “This government clearly does not understand the issues, they allowed Ceop to wither on the vine. There is far too much work for far too few people, and of those far too few people too few have the right specialist skills. There are people whose identities are hidden among data streams that are sitting on shelves because police lack the skills to identify and risk assess and the resources to follow it up.”

Last week author John Grisham apologised for comments he made to the Daily Telegraph that not all men who looked at child abuse images should be sent to prison and that sentences for such crimes were too harsh.

Gamble said: “Some people still think that it’s somehow different, that looking is not the same as doing, that it doesn’t cause the same harm and could be done by accident. That is simply not the case. People who look go on to do.”

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