Leicestershire Police has made a major breakthrough in the notoriously difficult area of identifying children in abuse images seized from paedophiles.
In 2017 Detectives from Leicestershire POLIT have positively identified 185 boys and girls – including a number from Leicestershire – thanks to investment in new technology.
Establishing the victims’ identities means action can be taken to ensure the children are not exposed to further abuse or exploitation.
Leicestershire Police’s Paedophile Online Investigation Team, (Polit), told the Leicester Mercury that the new technology enables the team to dig deeper into devices – such as computers, phones and memory sticks – it seizes from suspects.
Gaining access to previously unobtainable information contained in the devices – such as date, time and GPS location data relating to the images – was key to identifying child victims in images, according to Det Sgt Bill Beechey, of Polit.
The force also has access to resources like a database of school uniforms and information held by organisations such as the UK’s National Crime Agency as well as overseas law enforcement bodies, he said.
The team now employs a full-time victim identification officer to work alongside colleagues who seize images from suspects.
Det Sgt Beechey said: “These are children we would have had no involvement with.
“They were unknown children in indecent images and we had no way of identifying them.
“Historically, this department focussed on identifying offenders who possessed images of children or were offending against children in some shape or form with an online element.
“Now, we’ve moved toward identifying the children in those images and stopping that abuse and taking steps to safeguard them – and we are making progress.
“A lot of them will invariably be from deprived backgrounds elsewhere on the globe.
“However If we believe we have identified a child in Leicestershire then the response is instant and with support from partner agencies was can protect that child.
“If it is elsewhere in the UK we will contact the relevant police force or other agencies, such as social services, and they will take the case on.
“We also work with the National Crime Agency and Ceop, (Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre) to make referrals around the world.
“The role of a police officer is not just about locking up offenders, it is also about safeguarding victims and we are doing that now.
“This is one of the lines we have always wanted to go down with our investigations but were not able to until now.
“This unit has been around for a few years now and I would say this is the best thing we’ve done.
“We have employed a dedicated victim identification officer and her role as a detective is to review all this material as it comes in to look for opportunities to identify those children.
“Technology has moved on. It has made it easier for paedophiles to gather indecent images of children and to go on to arrange or even meet these young people.
“They don’t even have to leave their homes to commit these offences.
“But at the same time, developments in technology have also helped the police move forward.
“It is a race between us and the offenders and Leicestershire Police is committed to staying one step ahead.”