- Nearly 5,000 computers seized by just a third of Britain’s forces last year
- Almost 3,000 arrests for possessing child abuse images between 2013/14
- But police have assigned just six officers per force to monitor online abuse
Police forces are being overwhelmed by vast quantity of child abuse images they have to deal with, a charity has warned.
Thousands of computers are being confiscated every year – but there are just six officers per force to analyse the material, according to details from Freedom of Information requests made by the NSPCC.
Nearly 5,000 computers were seized by just over a third of the 43 forces in England and Wales last year, the charity said.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said NSPCC research showing that police forces were struggling to cope was ‘extremely worrying’
Those who responded said they had a total of 181 specialist officers assigned to sift through the pictures in a bid to identify the child victims – an average of six per force.
In 2013/14 in England and Wales, there were 2,393 arrests for possessing, downloading, distributing child abuse images, according to data from 30 police forces.
Meanwhile, 4,930 computers were seized, based on data from 16 forces who responded to the FOI.
The charity said Lancashire police seized 745 computers last year and they have three specialists, while Hertfordshire police seized 516 computers last year and have four specialists.
Elsewhere, Avon and Somerset Police seized 466 computers and they have 13 specialists, the charity said.
Jon Brown, NSPCC lead for tackling sexual abuse, said: ‘The volume of devices and the number of images on each device that forces are having to work through is increasing.
‘Ultimately what we need is an approach that cuts this material off at the source but until then, relevant authorities must ensure that staffing numbers are at a level to be able to deal with this and prioritise accordingly, so swift action can be taken and children are not put at risk.’
The police forces could not give a figure for the number of images confiscated last year.
But an FOI two years ago revealed just five of them had seized computers containing 26 million pictures of children being sexually abused, the NSPCC said.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said the NSPCC research was ‘extremely worrying’.
She said: ‘The Labour Party has warned for some time that crime is changing, that these awful online child abuse cases are rapidly increasing, and that the Home Office, NCA and police forces are failing to cope.
‘These figures show that the system is failing to investigate this very serious crime swiftly enough – and is putting more children at risk as a result.’
Ms Cooper added: ‘Today’s findings come soon after reports of delays in the NCA passing on intelligence on suspected paedophiles and evidence that the Agency is aware of thousands of people suspected of viewing abusive images, but is not actively investigating these.
‘Child protection must be made a far greater priority at national and local level, and online crime needs to be taken much more seriously. Other crimes get far more attention and resources than these crimes where children may be at risk.
‘Theresa May needs to get a grip on this urgently. The Government keeps claiming crime is falling and far fewer police are needed. The truth is that crime is changing and the police and Home Office need to operate very differently to keep children safe.’
BY TOM McTAGUE