Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 219)



  Q200  Chairman: That brings to mind the fact about parents themselves and who is responsible for educating parents. The evidence that we have had from the Children's Charities Coalition says that while a third of children regularly use blogs two-thirds of parents did not know what blogs were. Similarly almost 80 per cent of children use instant messaging but only a third of parents knew what instant messaging was. Given the rate of technological change can adults be expected to keep pace with the risks facing their children on-line?

  Mr Wright: There are a number of questions in there. I think parents will always be behind their children because children are early adopters and tend to have more time to pick up new services. So parents will always be behind and older generations will always be behind their children. I think in terms of the detail of specific services and how kids use them—and certainly that research is consistent with everything else we have seen—the core safety message is that parents understand about safety and protecting their children, what they find difficult is applying that in the on-line environment. In terms of whose responsibility that is, it is a shared responsibility. Government, education, law enforcement, service providers all have a role in helping do that. It is an on-going battle for us.

  Q201  Chairman: You do not think it would be valuable to have specific proposals that schools for example should run classes for parents, voluntarily of course?

  Mr Wright: Some schools have tried but, anecdotally, take-up amongst parents has often been poor. I think it is a good idea, but from people I have talked to it is difficult to get parents to come into schools after hours and do it. Some parents will come and do it but they are the parents who already understand the issues. It is a good idea but we have not found a way of doing it successfully.

  Mr Gamble: I think the issue here is demystifying some of the terms that we use about technology today. Tim is right, parents will understand a threat as it manifests itself to their children in the world that they grew up in and that they understood—the threat in the public place after dark. Talking about blogs sometimes is not helpful; talking about a diary, a parent understands that. So how do we engage them in a way that helps them develop a better understanding? We should be through our role encouraging them to be good parents in the sense that parents always were—to communicate with their children in a way to achieve better understanding. From the schools' point of view they need to imaginatively engage with technology so that the child's school report is delivered to the parent in the 70 per cent of homes that has on-line access in this country via e-mail as well as in the written form so that we are engaging them using the technology that we are speaking about in a positive and influential way. I happen to know that BECTA in the competition that they run to identify those schools making the best use of ITC, identified two schools who were joint winners and one was school was Ballyclare High School in Northern Ireland, and one of the questions that they asked the panel and one of the probing issues that they sought out was how they engaged with parents about the use of technology and how they used that technology to engage the parents. I think that is one of the ways that we see by being imaginative and engaging parents they are indoctrinated into the technology. The National Children's Homes' survey has shown that there is a massive gap between the knowledge that children have on-line and the knowledge that their parents have. We are never, ever going to be able to run technology classes to the degree that the parents can close that gap, but we can encourage them to understand it more effectively by simplifying it.

  Q202  Chairman: You could almost get value, if these numbers are correct, by sending each parent half a sheet of A4 explaining what some of these things are.

  Mr Gamble: Let me give you an example of one of the initiatives that we are running at the Child Exploitation and On-line Protection Centre. We recognise that we cannot police the Internet so as a serving police officer I recognise that the police cannot make all of our citizens safer on every corner of the information superhighway. Social services cannot, even industry by and of themselves with "safer by design" technologies cannot do that. We can no more be on every street corner in London than we can be on every street corner in the Internet. What we can do however is identify those individuals who are at the greatest risk and we can empower them by engaging them in a way that delivers information that makes them safer. We are currently running an education campaign which is modern, it is contemporary media, using modern music and modern film in a way that engages young minds emotionally and intellectually, so that when the one million children we will engage by the end of this school term leave the classroom they will understand the nature of the threat. They will understand yes, go on-line, have fun, learn—those are the skills that are going to enable you to develop careers in the future—but they will also know where to go and when to report and, more importantly, what to report. Through that programme we are asking schools that when we engage with those children face-to-face that they are given a homework which involves sitting their parent down at the computer and saying, "This is what I have been asked to do today," and simply asking the parent to spend 10 minutes through the Think You Know education campaign by allowing their child to take them for a walk on the Internet and showing them that site. By simply doing that and by reviewing the top tips, a parent and a child will engage in a constructive conversation that will leave the parent better informed and the child reassured and perhaps given some more advice by the parent. I think that is the type of programme of work that we need to be involved in and we need to be influencing as many schools as possible to take it up.

  Q203  Chairman: Do you think more can be done through regulation, for instance the Children's Charities Coalition argue for filtering products to be pre-installed on all computers and set to a high default security setting. What is the Government's view of the regulatory approach to these issues?

  Mr Wright: The Government's approach is self-regulation where self-regulation is the best approach. In terms of filtering and safety products, we are close to finalising a BSI standard which will apply for these products to be accredited against because at the moment there are a lot of products out there and they vary in clarity and quality and parents are not well-equipped in choosing between them, so by having products that are accredited against a standard that parents understand, parents will be better able to choose between them. In terms of pre-installation, the next thing is to look at making sure that as many parents as possible are using them. Pre-installation is obviously one way of doing that and the Task Force is setting up a new group within that to look at how we drive the take-up of safety software, and pre-installation is one of the options on that.

  Q204  Lord Mitchell: What is the view of manufacturers to that, are they co-operative?

  Mr Wright: The manufacturers of the safety products have been very co-operative in developing the BSI standard. We have not got as far as talking to manufacturers and retailers of PCs about pre-installation yet, but understandably the people who provide these products have been very co-operative in developing this BSI standard.

  Mr Gamble: The reality is that there is a commercial imperative in delivering software which is safer for families. People go and buy software on the basis of it being utilised positively by the whole family and the children in particular. So if you are someone that is selling something that people know is inherently safer then there is a benefit to doing that. In the Child Exploitation and On-line Protection Centre we partner very closely with industry and we have found that partnership to have massive benefits for us whereby we develop an ethical mutual interest in making children safer and we develop an ethical mutual benefit through that sharing of knowledge that allows us to inform them about where the risk manifests itself. Let me give you an example. Through the reports that we get into the Centre we are able to identify trends, themes and patterns. From that we are able to talk to manufacturers about where the threat perhaps manifests itself at any particular time. So that we know that Internet relay chat, instant messaging, is the environment where children are most likely to come into contact with a predator who wants to engage them. By working with one of our partners—Microsoft—very, very closely we were able to get them to sacrifice a space where they could advertise and gain a significant amount of revenue over a year to put our "report abuse" button in so that if you are a child in that environment and you are threatened by an inappropriate advance you are able to click on that button, initially get direct advice from us and then secondly report your suspicions. In the week that mechanism went on-line our reports went up 113 per cent. By working constructively with industry—we work very closely with Vodaphone, BT, AOL, Microsoft and others—we have found that we are able to gain a mutual benefit that I am not sure would be gained in the same way if we went for a regulatory approach. I have to say at this stage with my experience in the recent past, I do not support regulation per se.

  Q205  Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan: Given that a lot of schools have pretty old computers and do not replace them very quickly, how confident are you that you can ensure that the software of the kind you have just been describing can be incorporated into school IT systems on a regular basis? Can you disseminate that information? Can you get it out? Are teachers able to load it onto the computers for the youngsters in their classrooms?

  Mr Gamble: There are two different issues. The first is the stuff that can be bought commercially and we are working with the Home Secretary's Task Force and others to encourage manufacturers to meet certain standards so that people can be simply reassured and understand that that is safer. In the institutional environment, be it schools or care homes where many children are very vulnerable, we are working with some of the boards so that they better understand the nature of the threat. I know working with Vernon Coaker's office we are keen that by the end of 2007 at source many of the industry partners will have some form of blocking technology, and we are developing other initiatives which recognise that every provider will not be able to deliver that in the same way. In schools I can tell you this week the DfES have advertised for a grade seven member of their staff to work within our environment in CEOP so that they can engage with schools and ensure the safety messages that we are delivering and the guidance we are giving about what you should and should not do in schools goes direct to them. More importantly, I think in the longer term one of the key recommendations from this must be that this type of safety message is embedded in the national curriculum, and not just under information communication technology because it is about social responsibility. Let us not forget that technology is neutral. It is people who will abuse it or use it for positive means.

  Q206  Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I wonder whether you could tell us a little bit more about CEOP since its inception in 2006. For example, precisely what is its role? What sort of resources are available to it? Are those resources adequate to the tasks that you face in this programme of trying to reach one million children with the message that you are trying to get over?

  Mr Gamble: CEOP's primary aim is to identify, locate and safeguard children and thereby reduce the harm that they might otherwise face. It was built on the back of lobbying from groups not dissimilar to this one. It certainly represented the Home Secretary's Task Force, children's charities and the Police Service and industry itself. It was built to be different. We have constructed around three principal faculties. The first one is recognising that information in this area needs to be better managed and better shared, so the principal faculty is the intelligence faculty where we bring information in from police forces in this country and from abroad, from NGOs in this country and abroad, from industry partners in this country and abroad, and (since the launch of CEOP) directly from young people themselves. When we first launched we were getting about 21 per cent of the reports that came in from people below the age of 18. Today that number is up to over 40 per cent so bringing that information in, applying that analysis, identifying where a child might be at risk and identifying where an individual represents a risk to that child has resulted in national child protection operations where we have rescued eight children from contemporary hands-on abuse and arrested many, many more offenders. Bear in mind that academic studies will tell you that the average offender in the real world will offend against about 73 children, and I would say that is a conservative estimate, in the span of their offending career. The information, how we manage it and how we share it is critically important and are areas that we need to improve on. From that collection of information we create our second faculty which is our harm reduction faculty. Now that we better understand the nature of the offence, the nature of offender and the environments on-line and off-line where that is committed, it is about how do we create a "safer by design" technology, and we touched on that earlier. We have a safer by design team that works with industry and works with the Home Secretary's Task Force to encourage the sharing of information that can be translated into safer technology tomorrow, and we do that working very constructively with industry. That faculty deals with our education campaign. We could never reach one million children by ourselves so we cascade it out and we create and validate the product working with industry, working with charities and working with others. We make sure that it is contemporary and we have a youth panel presently of 60 young people made up of all of the diverse communities that represent the UK and we intend that to grow to 150. They come in and they advise us—does this touch you, does it grab you intellectually and emotionally in a way that would change your behaviour—so we listen to what young people say and we construct much of the stuff that we do on-line with their advice. That is situated in our harm reduction faculty. We have trained over 1,300 specialists in the UK from the Police Service, social services and charities around issues about understanding sex offenders on the Internet, interviewing sex offenders, and other training courses that we deliver. Our victim identification team is based in the harm reduction faculty. Those are the individuals that will take information from a police force, so seizing a computer in Manchester with thousands upon thousands of images and apply the lessons that we have learned in some of the operations that we were associated with earlier on to say how can we identify and locate and rescue the child. That is done by taking that information, applying an analysis on the clues that are available, and so far we have identified five children from that and we have 19 on-going investigations in that regard. That all sits in the harm reduction faculty with our academic team who work on a research basis to help us better understand why people commit these offences and how we can interdict with them at an earlier stage to make a difference. The final faculty is our operations faculty and that is where we house our financial investigation team, supported by Visa International. We would be unable to deliver that on the basis of our core funding were it not for the significant financial and intellectual support that Visa International bring to the table. That is where we would target those individuals that operate in a pay-per-view environment treating child abuse images as a commodity. We now attack them in the same way we would have before a drug dealer who uses cocaine or heroin as a commodity. We also use that specialist resource to identify patterns of life. If you are a sex offender, where are you going, what are you buying, what are your intentions about travelling? So we build that picture up and it helps our offender management team help the multi-agency public protection panels when they look at the most high-risk offenders. We have a second team which is our covert Internet investigations. They at this moment in time are engaged with counterparts across the world—Canada, America, Australia, Italy, with Interpol—where we are engaged in infiltrating those paedophile groups in the real world who use and abuse the technology to share information with one another to minimise and self-justify the behaviours that they enact, and to help identify, interact with and locate children they can reach in the real world. So that group is infiltrating as we speak and you will see over the months that follow the results are going to be outstanding and the evidence will be available in the public arena in the not-too-distant future. Finally we have an operations support team there that go out to forces providing forensic behaviour analysis support and also providing co-ordination support in this country and abroad where we are able to raise levels of awareness. After all I have said you probably think I am going to say we have got several thousand people. The Centre is about being more intelligent as opposed to being simply larger. There are between 80 and 100 people currently working in the Centre from a variety of backgrounds including the Police Service, the Serious Organised Crime Agency. The NSPCC has embedded a significant number of its personnel in our premises. Microsoft has embedded a significant number of their personnel working for us within our premises. Different government departments are represented within the premises so it is a partnership that manifests itself in reality every day across a desk and not at a meeting you might or might not attend once a month. Hopefully I have not gone on too long and that has given you a feel.

  Q207  Baroness Sharp of Guildford: In terms of resources, which was of course one of the questions I asked, I take it from what you say that it is a mix of public and to some extent private sector resources that you are getting? You were talking about Visa but you are also getting resources in from Microsoft and some of the children's charities.

  Mr Gamble: That is correct and we could not operate without that support from industry, from the children's charities, and from others.

  Q208  Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: Carrying on from that, clearly a lot of your work is reactive to information that you receive. To what extent are you able to be proactive and go out looking for paedophiles for example or other people who may be pursuing children and grooming them?

  Mr Gamble: Through our partnership with the Virtual Global Task Force, which is a collaboration of international law enforcement agencies which I chair, we operate 24/7 on-line on the Internet. That is undercover officers from Canada, America, Australia and the UK, shortly to be joined by a new partner I hope in Italy, sharing the patrolling time that we need where we will visit the locations where intelligence indicates to us that people are gathering that represent a threat to children so we engage them. That is low cost and high impact. What it means is that whilst we are working the Canadians are sleeping, they then take on the next shift, the Australians the one after, and we have the overlap with the Americans. It means as well that we are able to engage paedophile networks in a much more holistic way than we ever could before and we can call on resources to reinforce our activity that are not simply within our own jurisdiction because where we are proactive—and we are very proactive at present—we do that on the basis of attacking the threat, not on the basis of the geography of where it manifests itself. You cannot do that on the Internet. You have to sacrifice a little bit of your own sovereign territorial responsibility. What people need to understand is as child if I am a 15-year-old girl who exposes myself on a web camera to someone I believe is a 16-year-old boy, the offence has taken place and that image will be forever shared and as a 47-year-old paedophile I will use that image when I am engaging a 15-year-old boy to pretend that I am a 15-year-old girl and I will share that image pretending that it is me. So the perpetrator in that regard can be in Canada, America, Russia or Australia and can capture that image and that child is revictimised every time that image is shared or sold or swapped. We are looking in that regard at the value of an image, so when we capture someone who has a huge collection we can quantify what does that mean in a financial sense and can we use the Proceeds of Crime Act to remove the benefit that they have accrued from them and to make an investment in child safety in the future using those ill-gotten gains.

  Q209  Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: What other organisations do you liaise with, the Internet Watch Foundation for example?

  Mr Gamble: We work very, very closely with the Internet Watch Foundation here in the UK, and with charities large and small. We met with Barnado's yesterday about post-incident trauma counselling for children. We work with every government department, very closely with BECTA, very closely with DfES, very closely to the National Offender Management Team and all of the charities that you would imagine, headteachers' associations, the Football Association, anywhere where children will go we are able to engage and influence them. If you were to visit the CEOP centre, which I would really encourage all the Members to do, and test the DNA when you were there, the DNA would reveal partnership. There is nothing that we do that we do by ourselves. It is about this mixed ingredient that builds something which is significantly different, and the results that we have had to date evidence the fact that the proof of the concept that we have delivered in this first year needs to be significantly reinforced in the years to follow so that we can capitalise on the early success.

  Q210  Lord Harris of Haringey: I want to pursue the question of whether there are adequate resources available working in the area of on-line child protection? Are there sufficient police officers? Are there enough police officers with the appropriate training? Is there enough appropriate equipment in the Police Service? Are there enough other staff, other agencies? Could you give us some indication of that?

  Mr Gamble: First of all, let me say about the Police Service, do we need more police officers to be engaged in this work? Yes we do. Do they need to be in our building for example? No, they do not. Are the police of themselves necessarily the right people? What we need is more people with the right skills. Some of them will be police officers, others will be members of industry, others will come from social services with a particular understanding about the impact of harm on children, and some of them will be from government. We do need more resources. We do not need massively large amounts or significant amounts of reinforcement. What we need is the right people in the right place and a more intelligent approach to co-ordinating our activity. The benefit the criminal sees in the Internet is that they can be in many places at many times representing themselves in many different guises as different people. We can turn that against them. A small group of highly trained covert investigators can be many people in many places targeting many criminal entities, and we need to make sure that we get the best use of UK resources by more effectively focusing what we do around a tasking and co-ordination process, and we in ACPO are currently working on just that thing through our Countering Child Abuse on the Internet Group.

  Q211  Lord Harris of Haringey: Operation Ore led to something like nearly 1,500 convictions in the UK yet I have also been told that it could have been a lot more but there was a resource constraint. What impact did Operation Ore have on police resources and on the wider criminal justice system at the time and what were the pinch points?

  Mr Gamble: I think there is a lot of misinformation about Operation Ore and I welcome the opportunity to address some of those issues now. Operation Ore was a wake-up call. Operation Ore and the seeds for it were planted in the late 1990s when a couple in America who sold pornographic images to customers through acting as a web conduit found out quite by accident that they could make significantly larger amounts of money by selling abusive images of children, so they are organised criminals who are good business people because they divert to an area where they see the risks being lower and the profits being higher. We were not prepared for that in UK policing. I do not think social services, I do not think any of the institutions, even the academic ones, would ever have foreseen the fact that we were going to be hit with that number of suspects. Let us be clear, did we learn lessons in Operation Ore as a service? Of course we did. I think it is important to recognise that the volumes were unlike anything anyone had seen before in a single crime type and it was complex. Sometimes people were seduced by the complex nature of it because it is the Internet and you see it as a labyrinth and where do you go. I think historically there has been a tendency to say, "We cannot do anything about it because it is the Internet. We cannot make a difference because this technology is something we cannot understand." The principal lesson we learned from Operation Ore is this: the Internet is simply another public place, it is like this room, and the Internet is not good or bad; the people who occupy it at any given time will decide how good or bad it is. From a UK policing point of view, the lesson we learned is when you look at the suspects in these cases you have to categorise and prioritise them on the basis of those who represent the greatest potential risk to children. We did that and to date there are over 2,300 cases that have been dealt with through the judicial process and there has been a finding of guilt either through conviction in court or in just over 600 cases cautions. Police cautions are not given out on the basis of it being an easier route to reconcile and draw a line under a case. Police cautions are given out under national guidelines where there is a realistic likelihood of conviction and where the individual concerned has made a full and frank admission in the full understanding of the consequence of that. Anyone that accepts a caution for a criminal offence is guilty of that offence. Make no mistake about that. It is the same as if I am convicted today and say, "Actually I am innocent, I only pled guilty because I wanted to get it over in time to go and do something else or to move on beyond it." Anyone who has had a caution administered is guilty. Operation Ore represents a success. Let us be very clear, 132 children were rescued from actual live time abuse. That is a success. The police however began to view it in a different way: should we in the future be focused simply on finding where images are? I do not think so. We need to adopt a different approach. It is people that put the images on the Internet, it is not the technology. We need to be focused on the people who create the harm by taking the images in the first place because every image represents a victim. Every child is a victim in the first instance and revictimised in the second instance. I think Operation Ore was great work by the British Police Service and I would want to give them credit where credit is due for that and dealing with a difficult and complex area of a new crime type or an old crime committed in a new environment whereby they were able to do something that rescued that number of children.

  Q212  Lord Harris of Haringey: Could I stop you there. Certainly I was not trying to criticise the work you have done on Operation Ore; it is a question of whether more could be done. If it happened again with a similar sort of situation, could you take us through a little bit who takes the lead on this? Is it yourselves, is it SOCA, and I know SOCA has been criticised for allegedly downgrading its response to Internet crime, or is it the individual police forces? How is that responsibility allocated?

  Mr Gamble: The national responsibility as a single point of contact would be the Child Exploitation and On-line Protection Centre. The lessons that we have learned in dealing with Operation Ore have meant that it will be processed in a much more effective and efficient way. We learned lessons when we began to deal with what was an old crime committed in a new way previously, so that would come to us now. We have the mechanism and the infrastructure now to allow initial assessment of the intelligence and intelligence development to happen in a processed way. If you were able to visit I would be able to show you how that works, where we take the intelligence in, we establish whether there is a potential live time threat to a child and process it as a priority. Where there is not that immediate evidence, that information is then developed to a degree that we can decide whether or not a person has committed an offence. Let me give you one quick example. I mentioned to you that we are working on pay-per-view sites. We looked at a pay-per-view site facilitated in the UK. We were able to operate to a degree using undercover officers as well as financial investigation so that we were able to test the evidence prior to making arrests. Without going into the detail of cases that are still in court, I can say that in those cases the full and frank admissions that were made immediately evidenced to me as a serving police officer that that is an improved process, an improved way forward. We would not have got there without experiencing Operation Ore. Also it is worthy of note that in many, many cases where we have investigated, and we are duty bound to investigate them all, we have taken no further action where there is a doubt. We have given the benefit of that doubt to the suspect, as is right.

  Q213  Lord Howie of Troon: You have partially answered my question which was, was this a new crime or an old crime using a new medium?

  Mr Gamble: This question is asked a lot—one of the interesting issues, and I do not want to waste your time, is that in 1874 a local photographer in the Pimlico area, Henry Hayler, had over 130,000 photographic images seized held on 5,000 glass plates. Those pornographic images included images of him, his wife and his children, so it is a crime which has been with us I think always. It is a crime that the Internet allows those who are motivated to do so to exploit to a different level and to a different degree, but the good thing is this guy Henry Hayler left the jurisdiction and we believe he either went to Berlin or New York where he continued to share images for some time and in today's world the forensic contact with the on-line environment would give us many, many clues to track him. The relationships that we have through the Virtual Global Task Force, through our participation in G8, and through our partnership with Europol and Interpol would mean the likelihood of him remaining at large until he wrote his journal and subsequently died would be strictly limited.

  Q214  Lord Howie of Troon: If it is an old crime in a new way, do you need new laws or can you catch the perpetrators using the laws which exist?

  Mr Gamble: In most instances we can use the laws that currently exist. If you take the public place analogy, people will go to and frequent a public place, sometimes on payment or otherwise, but it remains in essence a public place, and the common law and the precedent that has been set over the years is something that we should not easily move away from. Where we have needed law that is more flexible and that understands the technology, such as grooming and the sexual offences legislation, then we have found Government and others very willing to be flexible and to look at that in a different way. Through the Home Secretary's Task Force a particular subgroup continues to look at that and we are considering cartoon images, for example. In the future we are going to have to look at the written word and the harm that can be conveyed by an obscene publication in that way in the on-line environment. You might want to consider for example as a question, is it right that as a 47-year-old man I can go onto the Internet tonight and pose as a 14-year-old to talk to a girl who is 13? Forget about sexual intent, is it right that I should be able to do that? Why would any 47-year-old man ever want to engage with a 13-year-old girl whilst masquerading as a 14-year-old boy. I think without lawful authority or reason you should not be allowed to do that. So do we need to look at other aspects of the law? Yes we do. Have we found the system to be willing to consider and contemplate how those could be developed? Yes we have.

  Q215  Lord Howie of Troon: Have you any proposals for new laws?

  Mr Gamble: I have a number of proposals that I would like to make before the end but none of them relate to new laws. To be fair, it is not about new legislation. It has got to be about new thinking in this environment and that is what we have found to be far more effective.

  Mr Wright: We have been very keen to review the law and see whether it is fit for purpose. Just to clarify what Jim said, the Home Secretary is currently consulting Cabinet colleagues about whether to ban the possession of computer-generated images of child abuse, including cartoons and other graphic illustrations of children being abused.

  Q216  Lord Howie of Troon: So possession rather like possessing cannabis?

  Mr Wright: Yes and at the moment the possession of real images is illegal but the possession of computer-generated images is not illegal.

  Q217  Lord Howie of Troon: Is that really because e-crime is scarcely recognised?

  Mr Wright: I think it is because the original legislation was about protecting children and an image of a child being abused is directly related to protecting that child because the child is harmed and abused in the creating of the image. In computer-generated images it is rare for a child to be harmed in the creation of the image so the legislation grew up differently but now we think we should ban the possession of those as well.

  Q218  Lord Howie of Troon: Could you give me some notion of the size of the problem? Is on-line child abuse getting worse or increasing? You mentioned something like 132 children. I do not wish to disparage your work but that is not terribly many children.

  Mr Gamble: But that is Operation Ore and if you look at the number of individuals arrested and acknowledge the fact that over their lifetime of offending academic evidence would indicate to us that they offend against many children. Let us look at a recent case. Lee Costi was convicted in Nottingham last year, a young man who had gone on-line and habitually engaged with 13 and 14-year-old girls and whose method of operating was to engage them on the Internet and then to meet them at a train station where he would engage in sexual activity with them. If you look at the computer hard drive and you examine it, you will see that he had conversations with many, many, many young people all of which, given the right circumstances at the right time, could have led to offending, so the preventative technology here is important. Secondly, people sometimes become confused by saying you are misdirecting child protection activity here because the real harm takes place in the home or in the broader family circle. They need to recognise the fact that a computer (which is in 70 per cent of homes which gives on-line access) allows children to form intimate relationships in the way they once only did with close family and friends living in the proximity. So is it a problem that is growing? I do not think it is. Is the profile of it growing because people are becoming more aware? I think that is the case. Our job is more about child protection however than about technology and one of our great fears is that sometimes we become so seduced by the technology in these issues that we lose sight of the issue which is protecting children no matter which environment they happen to be in at any given time.

  Q219  Earl of Erroll: I was going to ask about whether the existing laws were adequate for dealing with people acting illegally on-line dealing with people accessing illegal on-line content but I think you have really answered that. One of the things that concerns me is that some of the evidence of some of the stuff that is going on can be discredited if you start accidentally bringing innocent people into the net, and it was said that there were a certain number of people whose credit card details were held by Landslide Productions (which led to Operation Ore) where there was no evidence they had accessed any illegal content and yet they were in some cases apparently hounded. There was also I heard word that some of the images that were found on computers may have only been sitting in temporary Internet files because they were hidden behind thumbnails on the front page and people had not actually gone into that part of the website. Do you have any comment on that?

  Mr Gamble: In order to access the Landslide website there was a process that you had to go through. Let me say for the record I am speaking generally now because it would be inappropriate when there are still some cases pending for me to go into detail. The principal operation of Landslide was simply this: you went on; you identified what you wanted; you handed over your credit card details and you were sent a password back to your e-mail address which you had; you then went back on-line using that password which had been sent to your computer and then accessed your chosen choice. People have said, "Well, it said here `click child porn', and it did not." In some cases of course it did not; in some cases it said "click here for child rape". Where those people have been investigated, they have been investigated first and foremost because there is a reasonable ground to suspect that they may have committed a crime. They are not guilty in the first instance. That case came to what was then a paedophile investigation team and went out to an individual police force. The individual police force independently assessed the evidence and independently investigated it. At the end of that independent investigation that information, including the process by which they accessed the site allegedly, went to the Crown Prosecution Service which independently assessed the veracity of the information placed before them and whether or not there would be a likelihood of prosecution. Once they had made their decision it went to the court system where a judge made a decision independently about the veracity of the evidence produced by the prosecution and the information provided by the defence. It is common practice in many cases—and I have been a law enforcement officer for over 26 years—to try and discredit an operation of any type, not least this type in a new area. I would not want to associate myself with any investigation that manifested itself in the way you described, and that does not bear any resemblance, in my view, to my actual experience of this investigation.

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