Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)


18 MARCH 2008

  Q180  Mr Evans: But none at level two?

  Mr Gamble: Not that I am aware of. To clarify, you can never say until you have been through a case and examined every aspect that it has been reported properly. There is huge pressure on our referral staff who take on this work. You cannot switch off the tap. It is about how you identify it. We have reconfigured our website and the reporting mechanism; we are reconfiguring it again to make it simpler and to take away those reports which whilst not immediately relevant to us are relevant to the person reporting. That is about creating a conduit. That is why we would resist anything that duplicated effort because it would simply waste money. Much of the activity in which we are involved is about trying to work with others to deliver something collaboratively and in a collegiate sense, as opposed to all of us spending the same amount of money but doing slightly different things.

  Q181  Helen Southworth: Referring to your triage system and the clear and obvious focus on giving priority to serious threats of harm, what is the relationship between the Centre and the different police forces round the country, and how are you managing that? I am asking about that on a theoretical basis. A few weeks ago I was in one of my local police stations when a number of young people were brought in because of content they had posted on the Internet. There had been an assault on another young person which had been filmed and posted. That was dealt with in the local police station with the young people and their parents. What is the relationship?

  Mr Gamble: That is quite appropriate. Our relationship with the Police Service is such that we are not direct service delivery vehicles; they are. I am a chief police officer and I hold the title chief executive officer but the policing element and authority derive from the position I currently hold. I hold ACPO portfolios on child abuse investigation, countering child abuse on the Internet and extreme pornography and also the data communications group and how one accesses subscriber data under part 1, chapter II of RIPA. Our relationship with forces is constructive, but we create pressures for them because the throughput of information we get goes out to them. There is work at hand at the minute among myself, the president of ACPO, the HMI and others to look at how we can streamline it and better support that mechanism. But when CEOP identifies a child at risk it does not turn up at the house and rescue that child; it provides the information to the local force. Collaboratively we want you to be reassured by your local police force about rescuing your local children and that is about people feeling safe. It is about dealing with criminality but delivering reassurance is something we need to do in a more sophisticated way. Therefore, we are engaged with the Police Service and every police force and with ACPO.

  Q182  Helen Southworth: How good is the information that comes back the other way? You have a group of people collected together who are international specialists and can identify threats, problems and dangers. How are the police on the ground developing the skills to identify that intelligence and pass it through to you?

  Mr Gamble: In the past 12-month period of the reports we have generated—it may be 3,888 or something like that but do not hold me to the exact number—88% went out to the Police Service. We have begun counting reports that come back in. We see a very positive increase in feedback from the Police Service. Since August of last year we have had 800 intelligence reports come back to us from the Police Service. Therefore, 88% of the work we do is going out to UK policing—that is positive—and a significant number of reports come back in if you measure simply from August last year. I think the situation is improving. We need to tailor the service we deliver to the broader child protection teams in the community as opposed to just the police. Within the Centre—the reason I do not speak with authority but the Centre does—we have a number of child protection advisers who are accredited social workers bought and paid for and embedded by the NSPCC in the work we do. They have a right of veto over any of the investigations or operations we undertake if they think that child welfare is not being put first. They have a direct line with us into social services. Police forces, be it Devon and Cornwall, Surrey, Greater Manchester and West Midlands, have seconded and embedded police officers in the Centre. Multi-agency working is not something you do once a month or once every fortnight; it is every day round the same table. That brings together collective experience that I believe is hard to undermine. For example, we have an individual from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in America. He has worked there for 10 years and now leads our work on partnership. Natalie Mead who led much of the child protection work and CSR for a large UK-based IT company is now head of Safer by Design. People we pick come in with specialist skills because they add an ingredient that allows us to attack the problem from a 360-degree standpoint.

  Q183  Helen Southworth: You have given us some really good information around how professional bodies are upping their skills levels to be able to identify these issues and work together to deal with them and also how you work with parents to enable them to take control of their own children's safety. What about those children who are most vulnerable because they do not necessarily have families who can or wish to support them some of whom are made even more vulnerable because they no longer have a sense of personal safety because they do not have a sense of personal value? They find it very hard to report things that are happening to them because they do not believe they deserve better.

  Mr Nagle: That is one of the main reasons why we are working very closely with local children's safeguarding boards and engaging them in our education programme, so hard-to-reach children get the same benefit that other children have. We want to make sure that our education programme goes to every single child in the country, not just the ones in mainstream schooling but those who are vulnerable and harder to reach. The value of what we do is that we can create products that are nationally consistent and allow local people to deliver that to their kids locally. They know the ones who are vulnerable and know how to reach them in a way we cannot. We can give them the method and means to do it but allow them to deliver that message for us.

  Q184  Helen Southworth: Are you working with children who are disengaged? It is an incredibly difficult question to ask because by virtue of the fact they are disengaged they usually do not have contact with statutory bodies or parental support, but those are the children who can be specifically targeted by exploiters?

  Mr Gamble: We have worked with SENCO and many other groups. We are consulted on the Care Matters report. The issue is: how do you stretch out to those difficult places to reach to make sure you educate, empower and engage those children? Our educational products are free to every credible entity that has legitimate access to children. We recognise the need emotionally to engage them. The ThinkuKnow range of films we have produced has won numerous awards. If you include the website and programme itself, it has won nine awards ranging from the IBC awards here to the British Film Institute awards and two gold awards at the New York Film Festival. They are deliberately short and have emotional content supported by modern music so they stick with young people and the intellectual message is delivered. For us reaching children in care is important and we support those who deliver that direct service. Reaching children with special needs is also critically important and we support those who do that. We configure the service we deliver to the needs of those particular organisations that are already required by statute to do those tasks; otherwise, we would simply create confusion in the marketplace by trying to deliver directly ourselves. The last thing we need in the market is more confusion.

  Q185  Helen Southworth: You are focusing very clearly on sexual abuse. You have given us some information about directing other reporting activities. Do you think that the future of CEOP is to deal with some of those issues as well or is it about supporting perhaps other more appropriate bodies to deal with it?

  Mr Gamble: That is an interesting question and is one to which certainly my mind is not closed. Do I believe that we probably have the best contemporary understanding from a statutory organisation's point of view? The answer to that is yes. Whilst I am from CEOP and am concerned with images and we are talking about child abuse, I think that the principles established apply across the board. You could reinvent something if others felt more comfortable for that to be dealt with by something that perhaps did not have the element of law enforcement attached to it. Law enforcement is what makes us different. We have teeth. Ultimately, when those people create a threat we will find them and hold them to account and our statistics stand testimony to that. It depends on what that other thing would be. If it is an environment where people come together as a collective and agree mutual interest, achieve consensus and then do things I am not sure. There needs to be a framework that lays down the minimum standard. The minimum standard cannot be agreed by those people who occupy the enterprise park because I believe that ultimately public will be put in jeopardy. It will gravitate to the lowest common denominator and no one will be thanked for that. We have built something that is credible. On your visit I would welcome any of you robustly to test anything we have said here to lift the stone and apply the principles you see there to other areas. If it is an abusive image and it passes the "reasonableness" test and you can be prosecuted for it under the Obscene Publications Act then you will be prosecuted for it if it is online; if it incites an act of terrorism or another criminal act then you will be prosecuted for it. If it is something that a reasonable person of 18 would see in a cinema then it needs to be treated in that way wherever that manifests itself online. If those people want to behave reasonably and ethically as an over-18 access area they must make provision to ensure that happens. Simply to abdicate responsibility and say there are other small parts of the Internet that will not comply is like saying that we will not civilise any town in the wild west because there are certain elements that will not comply and we will try to get round it. Fix the biggest part and then concentrate on the smallest.

  Mr Nagle: The key point is not to confuse parents of children any further. In the same way that we do not have a different number for different types of crime, why do something different online? There should be one reporting mechanism so people and children understand they can go to that. We must make sure there is not duplication. We want to avoid confusion among the general public which can easily happen.

  Mr Gamble: If you contact our report page today we will divert you automatically to the IWF; if you come to us on bullying we will send you to There4me with the NSPCC. If you need to you will be able to talk to someone. It is about creating a sensible portal where people can go. What can Government do? It is about awareness raising which is critical. We go into schools and do cascade training. If you want to raise awareness in one place quickly to make a difference the answer is television but that costs money.

  Q186  Chairman: You praised both Microsoft with MSN and AOL for the work they are doing. What about sounding out other companies like those that provide social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo? Do you think they are doing enough to protect young people?

  Mr Gamble: Very few people are doing enough. Those people who have in place a mechanism for reporting abuse where danger manifests itself are doing a good job and the right thing. I am absolutely positive having talked to Haymoo and MySpace that they are working towards the creation of a safer environment. I believe that we should be able to come to some form of accommodation with them. I hope it is much sooner rather than later because at the end of the day we have the frustrating position where people say they need to talk and engage and we do that, but talk is cheap and money buys whisky. Ultimately, we can talk only for so long and then we need to see action and not words. We are coming to the point where we expect to see action very soon; if not, then the answer to your question concerning a broad range of groups would be significantly different.

  Q187  Chairman: Are there any who prove unwilling to co-operate with you?

  Mr Gamble: Yes.

  Q188  Chairman: Would you like to tell us who they are?

  Mr Gamble: I would not. Are people unwilling to work with us? In my experience and judgment some people who say they are willing are not but they are the minority although a difficult one. It would be unfair and unhelpful for me to put a corporate label on that.

  Q189  Chairman: Are we talking about specific ISPs?

  Mr Gamble: We are talking about specific members of the online industry as groups. I will not sit in front of you and say that everyone engages with us 100% because you know that is not true. Are some people difficult and do they avoid engagement? Yes, they do. Is that down to individuals within the organisation or to a greater organisational imperative? I am not sure of the answer to that question and that is why I am not prepared to malign any organisation on the basis of my view having engaged one or two individuals within it. That would be unhelpful and extremely destructive. Sometimes we talk about industry as if it is a huge single entity, but it is not. As with every area of life, be it Parliament or elsewhere, one has the good, mediocre and bad. Many industry partners are very good; some are mediocre and some are just not good.

  Q190  Chairman: But if you are to obtain a level of protection it requires presumably that all the various players in the industry co-operate. If there is one who does not that will immediately act as a magnet for all the people who wish to take advantage.

  Mr Gamble: Let us ask ourselves: why would there be one, two or three who do not? If you have a veto you can exercise it. If in an enterprise park one business says it will not comply with health and safety or moderate its amusement arcade they will all play to the same rules. That is why it is unfair to some industry partners who do the very best for the very best of reasons that others do not. Unless there is a framework within which they work you disadvantage those who do the right thing.

  Q191  Chairman: But if there are one or two who refuse to co-operate what can you do about it?

  Mr Gamble: We can further engage and lobby individuals in government and industry. There are individuals in industry who believe that there should be a better framework in which to deal with this. I am the father of three and I head up the Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre. I will not let anyone who represents a risk for children to hide behind me. There comes a time when you say that enough is enough and you believe that this or that individual or company is not constructively engaging, but we have not yet reached that time.

  Q192  Chairman: Perhaps I may suggest to you that naming and shaming will possibly have the greatest influence on a company to come into line.

  Mr Gamble: That is something I have resisted. My level of resistance to that idea is being reduced as time goes on, but I do not think we are there yet. We have an opportunity in what you are doing and in the Byron review. Tanya Byron understands children and this environment. No matter what, we all come to this table with our own baggage, so I come from a particular point of view. That does not mean—I accept this—I am right. I give you my experience and understanding; others will come with their own. Tanya has engaged each and every one of the individuals operating in the field and has come to it with fresh eyes that perhaps are not tainted by negative or positive past experience. I look forward with interest to seeing what comes out of that and to reflect on how we can play a part if we believe it is constructive.

  Q193  Helen Southworth: You talked about the environment being the same and said that it was all society. You also referred to a young person going into an off-licence and purchasing alcohol which would be dealt with under the law. One of the matters that has quite impressed me in terms of management of the night economy has been the policing concept of the 10 best and 10 worst; that is, you identify best practice which is supported and encouraged and identify those people who do not choose to participate in best practice and have what you suspect is poor practice and so there is police focus on those premises. Have you thought about that sort of thing in terms of Internet providers and the industry, that is, to choose whether they want to be among the best or to have a lot of police focus?

  Mr Gamble: We have not thought about it in those terms, but because of limited resources across the Police Service we are intelligence-led. We will manifest our interest where we know there is a threat or we believe the environment is such that it creates a threat. I spoke at a school just on the outskirts of London yesterday and a 17-year-old who had done some research for the presentation—she did it, not me—said she had gone to a site designed for people below the age of 10. She joined up and gave a false age. She asked 20 whether they would be her friend and 15 accepted. These are very young kids. Externally, we have to know about that before we can deal with it. Is that a one-off? When you advise that site of the issue do they listen to that advice and work with you to construct a Safer by Design environment? If so, that is good. Do we go to a position where in our annual report we show the top 10 and the 10 areas where there is the greatest danger? First, we have to remember that we are dealing with a range of commercial entities, some of whom are outstanding and some of whom will immediately resort to litigation. If you undermine their market value be prepared for a battle in court. We debate whether or not the law applies in the virtual world all the time but I do not see that taking place when it has to do with the commercial viability of a particular entity, or one commercial harm compared with another in that area. There is no problem about one suing another over virtual or real space. We need to be conscious of the environment in which we live. If Government recognises that it would be valuable to highlight poor practice, in the same way that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary will inspect police services and they will be scored as being satisfactory or not meeting the standard, then perhaps that is an excellent idea and we will certainly take it on board.

  Helen Southworth: Perhaps this is something for industry to look at.

  Q194  Mr Evans: How dangerous is the Internet for children?

  Mr Gamble: The Internet represents huge opportunity and risk. The issue for us is managing the risks so they can capitalise on the opportunity which outweighs the risk.

  Q195  Mr Evans: Are there any sites out there that come to your attention time and time again as being the most dangerous ones for children?

  Mr Gamble: The most dangerous sites are the ones we occupy and close down. For a variety of operational reasons I would not highlight where we operate under cover because that is how we do it. It is more to do with trends and themes. Many of the social networking sites, for example, will be about venture capital and investing in something to see if it works. They can be undermined by young people moving from one area to another. My saying an area is bad may increase the throughput of traffic and thereby it will be able to attract more advertisers because young people being young people will want to go somewhere else.

  Q196  Mr Evans: Without naming it, is there a site that takes more of your time than others? The paedophiles seem to know what the sites are and tend to congregate on specific sites.

  Mr Gamble: I think that would be unfair. The paedophiles in the real world will go wherever children loiter, whether it is outside school or a youth club or swimming pool; they will do exactly the same thing online. Wherever young people go they will follow. The Internet did not invent this. My office is in Pimlico. There used to be a photographer's studio half a mile away run by a Henry Hiller. His premises were raided by the Metropolitan Police and 132,000 images—many of his own young sons—printed on glass were recovered. He was raided in 1874. The Internet did not invent this and is not responsible for it. People will break the law online or offline; people will post things that are inappropriate online or offline. What we have to do is adopt a sensible position where we all accept our responsibilities: Government, industry, law enforcement agencies and parents. We need to collaborate sensibly and make it as easily accessible as possible.

  Q197  Mr Evans: Facebook is probably now too old for youngsters because a lot of politicians have gone onto it and probably frighten them off, but Bebo and maybe one or two other sites—I do not have the faintest idea what they are—are the place where youngsters will go. There is also a social responsibility, is there not, for the owners of those sites to give advice to youngsters who go on to them?

  Mr Gamble: Absolutely. To be fair, we do see some very constructive behaviour on those sites and we have engaged with them. As to those sites, why is our report of abuse mechanism not in there? Why is it not alongside the traffic, in other words when the children go in? Why is it not where the predator can see it so they are aware this is a policed environment?

  Q198  Mr Evans: I know you do not want to name these sites, but the fact is that if there are any sites where we know youngsters go onto and they refuse to put up your reporting links to them those are the ones that are dragging their feet; they are not playing ball?

  Mr Gamble: Before we jump to conclusions, in some cases those sites are engaging with us at the minute about how best to do it, so we are reconfiguring what we do and they are helping us with that. We need to be clear about this. Do we want it on all sites? Yes. Do we need to listen to industry's concerns so we deal with more than simply the issue of sexual abuse? Yes, we do.

  Q199  Mr Evans: I am with the Chairman on this. I think that you should consider long and hard that if there are sites out there that youngsters use and the owners of the sites are not prepared to play ball and take social responsibility you have a responsibility to name them.

  Mr Gamble: I agree with you, but that is not the issue here. I am not going to give the name of one social networking site or another on the back of this. I am frustrated by the length of time it takes when we engage with some companies as opposed to others to make progress around child protection. We need to recognise that this is a shifting marketplace where personalities and ownership move. There needs to be a consistent framework; otherwise, we sometimes jeopardise legitimate business that is working with us by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Should we create a list? I would welcome Government inviting me to create a list of those cases where we have engaged positively and received positive support and those cases where we have not. That is an issue for my Government sponsoring department to consider. Ultimately, we are genuinely moving forward. The social networking sites are a new phenomenon. I do not believe we understood them properly. The advent of Web 2.0 self-generated material changed the dynamic. For goodness sake, we should not be further seduced by technology or technologists. Governance is not about nannying but creating safe environments where young and not so young people can capitalise on the opportunities. We need a better framework because the present one is not as good as it should be.

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