Police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are failing to adequately investigate online child abuse, a new report has found. The Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) examined the work of officers who investigate child abuse images posted online, both by paedophiles and children themselves, and found that forces were not responding to the scale of the problem.
The report praised the dedication of officers, noting that they often work long hours and on their days off to achieve the best outcome. However, it raised concerns that the national child abuse database is not being used to its full potential, with long delays in uploading pictures and the same images being repeatedly posted online.
The HMIC also found that follow-up investigations into suspects were often taking months, with officers not considering the risk posed by the suspect to other children due to poor supervision or out-of-date guidance. In one example, a suspect had uploaded two videos of a nine-year-old girl being raped by a 17-year-old, but the case was incorrectly rated as low risk and there was no further investigation.
Deputy Child Constable Ian Critchley, from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said that tech companies should be reporting more offenders and that police need better access to evidence which might be encrypted. He also noted that they are committed to using the findings of this report to support their staff and partners in tackling this national scourge.
The HMIC report highlights the need for better training and supervision for police officers investigating online child abuse. It is essential that police forces are equipped with the resources and knowledge to respond quickly and effectively to reports of abuse, in order to protect vulnerable children from harm.