STAFFORDSHIRE Police have stepped up their fight against sexual predators viewing explicit images of children online.
The message is clear – anyone looking at these images should expect a knock on their door from police, who are now able to set up a forensics lab at the property and act swiftly to prosecute the offender.
Assistant Chief Constable Jon Drake from Staffordshire Police said: “The operation has seen safeguarding action being taken to protect 23 children who were at risk of being harmed and abused. It has also resulted a number of arrests and charges.
“I want those accessing such images to really think about their actions. Often they think there isn’t a victim because they might not have any direct contact with the children in the images, but those children are victims of abuse and were abused to make those images.
“We will continue to tackle this issue and take enforcement action to protect children until we know children are safe.”
This new approach brings together police officers and highly skilled digital forensics staff, to proactively seek out those using the internet to view and exchange these images in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.
Each week the team use the latest digital investigative techniques to identify where in the county illegal images are being viewed. This intelligence is then used to apply to a magistrate for a search warrant, allowing the police and digital forensic experts to raid the home to seize evidence and arrest those involved.
ACC Jon Drake added: “I cannot give away too much detail about how we identify the homes we need to target but I am both shocked and saddened by the number of people involved in this criminal behaviour.
“We have done something innovative with Operation Safenet – using the latest mobile based technology we set up a digital forensics laboratory in the home of the suspect and examine the computers, mobiles, tablets and data storage devices within minutes of arresting the suspect.
“The forensics staff work with the police officers in the address to immediately secure evidence for a prosecution so a quick decision can be made regarding charging and putting the suspect before the courts.
“This triage approach to the evidence gathering means we can immediately take action to prevent further offences and importantly take action to protect any children at risk. Ultimately that is the aim of Operation Safenet.”
Operation Safenet has a team of 10 officers who have come together to proactively deal with, manage and reduce the threat, risk and harm posed by online child abuse and they are supported by experts in digital forensics.
Working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) the team use an internationally recognised system to gather intelligence and are already achieving a far faster charging decision, often resulting in the suspect appearing at court within four weeks of their arrest.
The police are hoping the very real risk of being arrested will deter some offenders from committing further offences.
A new dedicated website (www.operationsafenet.co.uk) has been launched to highlight updates on the work being done by Operation Safenet. The site will feature updates on the number of children safeguarded, the number of suspects arrested and advice and information for those concerned about their own or someone else’s behaviour.