Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Wednesday, 6 July 2011 17:14 UK

Delays in paedophile database putting victims at risk

Watch the investigation in full

By Meirion Jones
BBC Newsnight

Delays in introducing a national paedophile database are hindering Britain's ability to identify and rescue victims, the BBC has learned.

The UK's Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre (Ceop) says a central database of all images of abuse which appear on the web is necessary.

However, it said it could be another 18 months before it is introduced.

A senior Interpol detective told Newsnight that the UK is falling behind nations which have such databases.

Mick Moran, head of child protection at the international police agency told Newsnight that simply prosecuting those who download images of child sex abuse is not enough.

He said that the images need to be sent to a central point where they can be analysed to look for clues to identify the children, but that is not happening in the UK.

Mr Moran said some police officers are "forgetting the fact that each of these images, each of these movies, contains a victim".

Every day in this country we have children suffering the most appalling abuse and we have to stop that
Claire Perry MP

"If I told you there was a girl being raped down the corridor you would kick walls down to get in there and assist her, so what's different about this?" he asked.

Ceop says victims can be found by the recognition and monitoring of Internet Service Providers, good investigative referrals from police forces that suspect or believe a child is at risk of harm - and the work of the international community referring images to countries for investigation.

In the UK different police forces currently have various systems and different databases. Some have their own victim identification units.

The more complex identification cases are then sent to Ceop for their specialist expertise in this field. The organisation says submissions to them from forces to help identify victims are on the rise.

But although millions of images of child sex abuse have been collected, only 47 cases were passed on to Ceop by the UK's 52 police forces in 2010 - less than one per force.

In the cases which were passed to them, Ceop helped rescue 22 victims.

Poor performance

Conservative MP Claire Perry who is on the Justice Select Committee said that the delay in introducing a national database was unacceptable:

"I don't think it is acceptable to wait another day to sort this problem out. Every day in this country we have children suffering the most appalling abuse and we have to stop that," Ms Perry said, adding that she would press ministers to bring in a national database without delay.

Figures obtained by Newsnight suggest that Britain is not in the top 10 countries for tracking down victims with the help of the Interpol database.

Norway with its population of only four million uses the agency's database to track down more victims than the whole of the UK.

Corrected for the size of population, Norway finds 33 victims per million inhabitants, Sweden 15, Canada six, and the Netherlands five.

Denmark, Australia and Belgium all find more than three, and the US, Switzerland and Germany all more than two.

The UK's figure is about 1.5 per million inhabitants.

Newsnight visited the headquarters of Interpol in Lyon with Mark Willams Thomas, a criminologist and former child protection detective.

In the agency's Victim Identification Suite, Interpol officers demonstrated how central databases and international co-operation can aid rapid identification.

Babies rescued

During our visit a new file of serious abuse on a five-year-old girl was uploaded from a European country. Because the officers could check the file against the database they knew that was a new assault.

MP Claire Perry on urgent need for a national child abuse database

"This is abuse, that's happening right now, right this minute" Mr Moran said "and we can do something about it".

Before the BBC team left the building, the unit had identified the country of origin, which was in North America, the city where the abuse had taken place and even clues as to the abuser's employer. The unit passed all the details on to local law enforcement.

They also showed how analysis of an image of a metro ticket in a picture had led to a police raid on a crèche in Spain where 10 babies were being abused and images of that abuse put on the internet. Two men were jailed and the young children were rescued.

There are still many images which they are not able to identify but Mick Moran told Newsnight that Interpol is now hoping to go a stage further and use citizen sleuths to help track down the paedophiles:

"We have a project" he said, to take details from the background of the pictures and "post the articles from the images up on our public website to ask the public to give us help".

Watch Meirion Jones and Mark Williams Thomas' film on finding paedophiles on Newsnight on Wednesday 6 July 2011 at 10.30pm on BBC Two.

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