5 News

April Jones' parents: We've been 'hoodwinked' by David Cameron over online child abuse images

A 5 News survey reveals that child protection experts do not believe the government is doing enough

April Jones' parents: We've been 'hoodwinked' by David Cameron over online child abuse images

By Jack Leather

The parents of April Jones say they have been “hoodwinked” by David Cameron over their campaign to block child abuse images online.

It comes as a 5 News survey reveals that 94% of child protection experts do not believe there is enough police to stop the tens of thousands of people who regularly download images of child abuse.

April Jones’ father Paul told us: “I think he's hoodwinked us a little bit by coming out banging the drums, but hasn't actually put any money in place - he's left it to the internet (companies).”

He added: “When I last met David Cameron I said aim high - but he's fallen well short of the mark.”

The issue of online abuse intensified in the wake of April Jones's murder - her killer Mark Bridger was found to have accessed child abuse images online just hours before her death.

Five News has followed a campaign by April's family to clean up the internet and last year the Prime Minister agreed to meet them to discuss what could be done.

Over 9 in 10 also said insufficient resources were being dedicated to investigating crimes on the ‘dark web’ – where offenders use sophisticated technology to hide their identity.

“We need genuine ownership of the issue at government level and consequent investment matched to the size of the problem and resource needed to address it,” one expert told us.

When a paedophile or online abuse image offender’s computer is seized, their computers are often found to contain millions of abuse images of children documenting the abuse of tens of thousands of victims.

But 90% of the experts we asked said resources were insufficient to locate the children in the images.

The startling findings come in spite of Prime Minister personally vowing to tackle the problem and forcing search engines to take measures to stop offenders.

Only 15% said blocking search terms was an effective way of preventing paedophiles accessing images online and 8% backed ‘pop ups’ or ‘splash pages’ as a deterrent.

“Paedophiles will not be deterred by the blocking of search because they will be using more sophisticated methods to access the images,” an expert told us.

We spoke to hundreds of frontline workers – including teachers, police officers, health workers, social workers and others – who are responsible for safeguarding children.

Over 70% said government cuts had hindered their ability to protect children.

Given the limitations of policing budgets and in light of the government’s austerity measures some would argue it is impossible for law enforcement to provide the man power needed to act against individuals who download images. 

It has been suggested that volunteers could be used to help police the internet.

'Special Digital Detectives' or SDDs would be comprised of volunteer retired child protection specialists and police officers who have been vetted and specially trained to police the internet and to identify and locate online paedophiles and help identify the victims of abuse present in the abuse images.  

Over 80% of those we asked supported the creation of ‘Special Digital Detectives’ and around half say that they, themselves, would be keen on filling such a role.

But a worker in a public protection unit warned: “Although I see why ‘special digital detectives’ should work, this should be a paid role for a police officer... Structure is required. Formal safeguarding of children is surely worth paying a wage.”

In response, policing minister Damian Green said: "Child sexual exploitation is an abhorrent crime which this government is determined to stamp out. We have strengthened our police response through the National Crime Agency, ensuring that every NCA officer has a legal duty to safeguard children and promote child welfare.

"The NCA’s UK and global reach is extensive, with officers stationed in over 40 countries to ensure our international partners are working alongside us to tackle the abuse of children.

“We are building a single, secure database of all illegal images seized by the police and NCA to help officers work more effectively to identify and help victims.

"And we are working with industry. Google and Microsoft have already made changes to their search engines to prevent images, videos or pathways to child abuse being returned from a blacklist of search terms, making it harder for offenders to find this appalling material.

“But there is still more to do. We are constantly exploring new ways to protect children and catch offenders. That's why we've set up the UK-US taskforce to counter online child exploitation, through which we are drawing on the brightest and best minds from across industry, law enforcement and academia to stop the internet being used to abuse children.” 

RESULTS IN FULL (280 respondents)

Do you believe blocking search terms is an effective way of preventing paedophiles accessing images online?

·         Yes – 15%

·         No – 77%

·         Don't know – 8% 

Do you believe 'pop ups' or 'splash pages' with a warning message are an effective deterrent preventing paedophiles looking at child abuse images online?

·         Yes – 8%

·         No – 88%

·         Don't know – 4% 

Paedophiles have been found to operate on the 'dark web' and use sophisticated technology to hide their identity whilst viewing, sharing and downloading abuse images. Do you believe there is sufficient manpower dedicated to investigating these crimes on the dark web?

·         Yes – 1%

·         No - 91%

·         Don't know –8% 

4. Last year, Peter Davies, former chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) said that 50,000 to 60,000 people in the UK regularly downloaded images of child abuse.

Do you believe there are sufficient numbers of police specialising in child protection to deal with this number of offenders? 

·         Yes – 1%

·         No - 94%

·         Don't know – 5% 

5. When a paedophile or online abuse image offender's computer is seized, their computers are found to contain millions of abuse images of children documenting the abuse of tens of thousands of victims. Are there adequate resources to identify and locate the children in these images?

·         Yes – 1%

·         No - 90%

·         Don't know – 9% 

6. Given the limitations of policing budgets and in light of the governments austerity measures some would argue it is impossible for law enforcement to provide the man power needed to act against individuals who download images. 

It has been suggested that volunteers could be used to help police the internet. 'Special Digital Detectives' or SDDs would be volunteers comprised of retired child protection specialists and police officers who have been vetted and specially trained to police the internet to identify and locate online paedophiles and help identify the victims of abuse present in the abuse images.  

a.       Would you support the creation of 'Special Digital Detectives?' 

·         Yes – 83%

·         No - 5%

·         Don't know – 12% 

6.b Would you volunteer to become a 'Special Digital Detective'?

·         Yes – 49%

·         No - 27%

·         Don't know – 24% 

7.a. Have government cuts had an impact on your work?

·         Yes – 86%

·         No - 11%

·         Don't know – 3% 

7.b. Has this impact helped or hindered your ability to protect children?

·         Helped – 2%

·         Hindered -  73%

·         Don't know – 25%

7.c. Do you believe budgets for child protection should be ring fenced?

·         Yes – 78%

·         No - 11%

·         Don't know – 11% 

8.a. Is there enough proactive police work in targeting new ways online offenders are utilising technology?

·         Yes –  4%

·         No - 66%

·         Don't know – 30% 

8.b. Is there enough investment now in the future threats posed to children online?

·         Yes –   1%

·         No – 80%

·         Don't know –  19%