NB: THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A TRANSCRIPTION UNIT RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT: BECAUSE OF THE POSSIBILITY OF MIS-HEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY, IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS ACCURACY.
One Click from Danger
Reporter: Jeremy Vine
RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION: BBC ONE
JEREMY VINE: Hello, I'm Jeremy Vine and this is Panorama. Would you let your teenager give out their personal details to total strangers?
My mobile number is.... I live in No.21, Greenwood Avenue. I'm at an all girls' school in town and every Thursday I walk home through the park on my own.
VINE: Every day our children are doing just that on the internet....
ELLIE BUDD: He told me not to be scared of him, and obviously that made me more scared of him.
VINE: ....making them easy targets for sexual predators.
DET SGT NICK DUFFIELD: This is a real situation. This individual had travelled with one intention, that was to have sex with a 12-year-old girl.
VINE: So what did your kids get for Christmas? A lap top? A webcam? Are they upstairs in their room at the moment chatting to their friends online? If so, this is for you. It may seem like they are speaking a foreign language but we owe it to our children to keep up if we are to keep them safe, because online predators are trawling the net every day. I've been finding out what every parent needs to know to keep their children safe.
There's been an explosion in social networking sites for adults and kids alike. FaceBook, MySpace and Bebo. There's even a website for kids as young as six. But who is on them? Children - certainly. Their friends? Of course. But strangers too, and these websites mean you can make a new friend without ever leaving your home. You can get into what's called a virtual community. Even our pop princess has joined in the phenomenon.
KYLIE: Hey guys, welcome to my social network. Go and create your profile now and I'll talk to you all soon.
VINE: Kylie says it, Brighton teenagers Ellie Budd and Olivia Lewis did it. They created their own profiles. They posted both theirs on one of the UK's most popular sites - MySpace.
OLIVIA: People were just talking about it at school, like MySpace, and I just set an account up and just started from that and then more people made one, so you just like connect with more friends.
VINE: So it was fun then.
ELLIE: Ah... for a while. I wasn't really into it that much but Olivia liked it.
VINE: But the girls didn't realise their profiles were attracting an admirer. The admirer gave the name "Popcorn Puppy" and asked to be put on their list of buddies. Popcorn claimed to be a 26 year old woman wanting to be a virtual friend and started messaging them. Later they would find out he was a man.
But how did this onscreen internet relationship develop?
Well I wouldn't really say there was a relationship from my point of view, but he obviously had formed one with me without me realising and he'd leave me comments and I'd maybe leave like a comment on someone else's page, say Ellie's, I'd say: "Oh, do you want to go to town today?" and then he'd leave me a comment in the evening like: "Oh, did you have fun in town?" and I would be like: "How did you know that?" "Oh was just browsing around."
VINE: But Popcorn Puppy was very serious about the girls. A virtual friendship was not enough. When they mentioned a school trip to Tate Modern on their web pages, he seized his chance.
My friends became aware of him, they looked around and said to me: "Oh this man is following us." And I thought oh it's probably just a coincidence. But then he approached me and I thought yeah, he is following me because obviously you're not just going to follow someone and come up to them for no reason.
VINE: And not only was Popcorn Puppy not a woman, the man was no puppy. He was more than 40 years older than Ellie and he knew exactly who she was because he had seen her photo on the girls' profiles. Ellie and her friends online chatter had allowed a predator to find out where she'd be and when.
ELLIE: He said: "Hi, you're Ellie Budd, aren't you. I'm Ian, Olivia's friend." He touched me on my back and then started rubbing it like circular and like looking into my eyes.
VINE: So he touched your back, he used your name and then what?
ELLIE: He told me not to be scared of him, and obviously that made me more scared of him and that made me more... like just really startled like... Oh my God! Is this happening to me?
VINE: And what sort of a man was this?
ELLIE: He was an old man. He was bald, he looked kind of pitiful. He was shaking. He did say that he saw me off of MySpace but I didn't actually know that he was some strange like person off of the internet. I thought he was maybe a relative or an uncle.
VINE: It was only as Ellie wandered away, she realised this must be Popcorn Puppy in person. The 14-year-old grabbed a friend and turned detective.
And then you and a friend went to try and find him.
ELLIE: We couldn't find him and then we just turned around and he was there and so we just both took a picture and just walked away.
VINE: The man the schoolgirls had caught on camera was a 55-year-old predatory paedophile called Ian Hunter. Ellie told her mum and dad as soon as she got home.
I was really concerned so I asked her to try and find me this man's MySpace account and when she did the first thing I saw was pictures of Ellie and all of her friends, just so many young girls on his account and I just knew it was wrong, and I was really concerned that because the girls had put details of their school on their MySpace accounts that he could then go to the school gates and wait for them.
VINE: Hunter messaged the girls again to apologise for scaring them, but their families had already called in the police. A manhunt was underway. Later it emerged that Hunter had tried for two caretakers' jobs at girls' schools. But his days prowling the net were numbered.
JANE BUDD: When the police went to his flat to arrest him they had difficulty actually entering the flat because of the large quantities of pornography, and apparently there were thousands of images, I believe videos as well, some of which were level five and the police have said that this is particularly disturbing pornography which can include children being abused, and we realised just how dangerous this man had been and how lucky we were that he hadn't harmed our daughter.
[PHOTO IMAGE OF HUNTER]
VINE: Hunter had more than 20,000 obscene images of children, including some of the worst police had ever seen. He was jailed for two years and the grooming charges were left on file. MySpace, where the teenagers posted their profiles, say the safety of children is their number one priority. Their advice: "Don't post anything you wouldn't tell the whole world" but Ellie and Olivia are typical of Britain's teenagers. Panorama commissioned a survey of more than 800 parents and youngsters, and look at this, 25% of the children questioned had given out personal details like name or mobile number on the net....
Source: GfK NOP phone poll
411 children aged 11-16
But only 13% of parents thought their kids had done this. So how can our children stay safe online?
Source: GfK NOP phone poll
Det Sgt NICK DUFFIELD
Paedophile Unit, Metropolitan Police
Keep the personal details to an absolute minimum. No phone numbers, no names, no school names and just keep that personal information to yourself or hidden behind that front page. Anyone with that intention or trying to identify you can piece all these little bits of personal information together and in a very short space of time can identify who you are, where you are, what school you go to, what your hobbies are, and who your friends are.
VINE: So don't allow your child to reveal anything that a predator might be able to use against them. Ask yourself how much a stranger could find out by visiting their profile. Know what web pages they're using and also what the privacy settings are on their accounts, they vary between websites. Remember, as parents it is our responsibility to make sure our children are safe online.
Police told us posting personal information on your site is like standing in the street handing out your most private details to anyone who walks by. You would not do it. We thought we'd see what sort of people might crawl over a youngster's website. As an experiment we posted three identical profiles on various social networking sites. Meet Jane who we said was 14. We did nothing provocative. We put out the details and we waited.
Jane is a typical 14 year old girls. She's just moved schools and she's looking to make new friends online. Her interests are... she's into Justine Timberlake and the Sugar Babes, Girls Aloud. She likes watching TV, hobbies are dancing and swimming.
VINE: You'd think that with millions of similar profiles on line Jane would be lost in the crowd, but we were shocked by how quickly she drew the wrong kind of attention. More on that later. As we've discovered, the internet allows people to disguise themselves to be anyone.
CHILD'S VOICE [MAN AT COMPUTER]: I like playing football with my mates and then going for a burger with extra chips.
VINE: The disguise allows men who would never approach a child in person to do it brazenly online. The stereotype is someone in a dirty mac, but the reality is often different. A businessman arrested for trying to link up with underage girls online agreed to meet me. His claim, the web led him astray. It was too easy.
Former online predator
These days with the social websites, the FaceBook and FaceParty, those sort of things, they are encouraged not to put email addresses onto those, but very often they do, particularly hotmail type accounts. You can find those with that information very easily from those sites. You can then add those people to your MSN Messenger service and next time they're online and you're online you can get in conversation with them.
VINE: MSN IM or 'Instant Messaging' offers real time communication. It's quicker than text or email and when you're logged in all your friends are alerted. Peter pretended to be a boy. He trawled the internet for young girls and got himself into their address books. In internet terms, that's a close friendship.
Did you say you were a teenager?
PETER: I have done on occasions.
VINE: How old did you say you were?
VINE: Why did you do that?
PETER: Because at the time I thought it was necessary to engage them in conversation.
VINE: And when you did that, did you turn it to a sexual purpose very quickly?
PETER: Fairly quickly, yes.
VINE: What sort of things did you say?
PETER: I don't think there's a lot to be gained by discussing that sort of detail.
VINE: Graphic, lurid things.
VINE: How old are you?
VINE: In your 40s.
PETER: In my 40s, yes.
VINE: Even computer games allow children to connect with strangers and youngsters compete over who's got the most friends on their profile. One click can put a new buddy in your list of allowed contacts. It does the same for a paedophile, and as parents many of us have no idea how close our children are to danger in our own homes. Peter says he now regrets the damage he caused.
You can go online and chat to 18-21 year olds. Why children?
PETER: I don't know the answer to that. I suppose there's something in the innocence of the children.
VINE: And do you consider yourself to have been a danger to these children?
PETER: There's no doubt I was a danger to them in the moral sense. In a physical sense no because there was never any intention.
VINE: But you're sexualising teenagers, 13-year-olds.
PETER: Yes, which is morally wrong, which is abuse. I didn't see it as abuse at the time but clearly it is abuse.
VINE: Stranger danger is a daily reality on the web. In our poll 15%, that's one in seven of our kids, admitted to chatting to strangers online.
Source: GfK NOP phone poll
411 children aged 11-16
Only 10% of parents thought their children messaged people they didn't know.
Source: GfK NOP phone poll
VINE: How do you make sure that your children are not talking to somebody you wouldn't want them to be speaking to?
Det Sgt NICK DUFFIELD
Paedophile Unit, Metropolitan Police
Okay I have an agreement in my house. I've got two teenage girls of my own and of course I said by all means have MySpace, have your personal profile account, have access to the internet. But expect me at some time to wander up and say: "Describe that person you're talking to. Describe that person to me, their physical appearance. I want to know that you know the person, that you know them physically, that you've met them and it's not a friend of a friend, it's not a long distance cousin of the girl down the road. It needs to be somebody who you relate to, who you know personally."
VINE: When we were young we were always told: "Don't talk to strangers" weren't we, and of course parents say that even more loudly now. But it may be that they are still talking about the real world, not the virtual world. So here's what you tell your kids. If you're messaging and somebody who's a stranger or someone claiming to be a friend of a friend asks to join your list of pals, as happened to Ellie and Olivia in Brighton, just say: "No" It's that simple.
In April 2006 the Government set up CEOP, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, to tackle abuse and educate parents and children about personal safety online. Nearly two thirds of 12-15 year olds have access to internet and mobile phones and they're doing something called media stacking where they're watching TV and they're online and they're on the mobile phone all at the same time. The question is whether parents can even begin to get a grip of this. I'm off to a rather different kind of class to find out.
Here at Brentwood School in Essex they take internet safety very seriously. Today Helen Penn from CEOP is chatting to 11 and 12 year olds about potential dangers.
HELEN PENN: Can you put your hand up if you have internet at home
[ALL HANDS RAISED]
HELEN: Okay, and who's got internet access in their bedroom?
[ALL HANDS RAISED]
VINE: While anxious parents - left trailing in their kids' wake when it comes to online communication - are taught the basics.
HELEN: Who uses the internet without their parents knowing, sometimes maybe at night, that kind of thing?
[SOME HANDS RAISE]
VINE: Their "Think you know" campaign has now reached more than a million kids.
HELEN: [addressing parents} The majority of children that I speak to cannot wait to tell their friends about their journey home. You know, I don't know what happened on the journey home but they've got to tell their friends about it and as parents....
VINE: The parents have to get up to speed quickly.
MOTHER: My daughter, who is 13, is always on MSN Messenger.
VINE: And she's writing POS and now you know what that means.
MOTHER: Yes, now I know what it means.
MOTHERS [Collectively]: Parents over shoulder!
GIRL: I go on MSN and I speak to all my old friends.
MOTHER: Was it ASL... was it that sort of...
MOTHER: Age, sex and location.
HELEN: How many contacts do you have on your MSN account?
GIRL: About 20.
HELEN: Do people try to talk to you on there?
GIRL: Yeah, lots of people come up and say hello.
VINE: How much of it did you think you knew about?
MOTHER: Very, very little, and it is eye-opening.
GIRL: I spoke to a girl who was 12 year old and I only know her in the virtual world but not in the real world.
MOTHER: My 12 year old plays on these game sites and I logged on and pretended to be a 13 year old child.
CEOP Education film
GIRL: I thought I knew who he was. I didn't want to let him down.
VINE: A hard-hitting film explains how it can all go horribly wrong. It also shows kids how they can report online grooming or abuse.
GIRL: I couldn't get away.
VINE: The CEOP's button is linked straight to specialists at their HQ and is directly accessible from 10,000 sites.
GIRL: The only one he wanted to be with.
VINE: CEOP say parents have a duty to educate themselves about the risks so they can update the old-fashioned 'don't talk to strangers' and make it relevant to the virtual world our youngsters are in.
Think you know....
who you're talking to online?
Chief Executive, CEOP
Talk through with them whether they understand these dangers? Where would they go? What would they do? Who would they tell? In ten minutes in an online environment will you be able to click on information about social networking, information about how to report, information about grooming and get explanations about what it means? You'll be able to have a conversation with your child that will let them know that you're interested.
VINE: Our time online revealed just how important it is to make our kids understand the risks. Remember Jane and her bogus profiles? She went online ten times between 4 and 6 in the evening.
Jane says: I'm only 14.
Roger says: I'll be very gentle.
Jane says: How old are you?
Cpl-Hammond is requesting a person-to-erson chat with you:
"Hey babe, want me to strip 4 u? Want to tell me wut to do with myself while watchin me on kam????
VINE: Remember, our fictional Jane's profile was barely more than a photo. Yet several men came online to chat to her, almost without exception the chats quickly became sleazy.
Roger: Be my daughter and I'll listen to everything you have to say.
VINE: Any reminders of Jane's age only seemed to make her more attractive.
Roger: You're confused because no one listens to you Janey, so I'll be the guy you can trust.
VINE: Eventually we just had to stop accepting invitations to chat. Within minutes of logging on Jane was being asked to strip and to reveal her bra size. Men then sent her unsolicited photographs of their genitalia and bombarded her with sexual requests that were frankly too explicit to go into at this time of the evening. It was ugly and to be honest it was all quite depressing.
JANE: If I really was a 14 year old girl logging into this site I think I would have been quite scared and probably wouldn't have understood a lot of the requests made by these men and the suggestive conversations. It was pretty scary.
VINE: If what they were saying was scary, then what they wanted to do was even more shocking.
MAN: I'd like to give you some homework.
JANE: What do you mean?
MAN: Sexual homework.
JANE: What do you mean?
VINE: Men wanted Jane's mobile number to text and chat in person, all behind her parents' backs of course. Some of her new friends were desperate to meet her for real.
MAN: Got a cellphone? You mean I get to see you in your uniform?
JANE: I'm only 14.
MAN: So where we gonna go when we meet up then?
VINE: Jane is being put in a position where she feels she's involved in something dirty. The predator is relying on her to keep it secret. Youngsters often hide things from their parents. The fact is, we want to believe the best of our children but there may be much more going on in their lives than they are willing to share with us.
James is an average teenager. He loves the internet, playing computer games and has a webcam, a small video camera on top of his computer. He chats to online friends around the world but of course they are mostly total strangers.
Who is she?
JAMES: Just someone I met randomly. I think she added me off FaceParty or...
VINE: Where is she there? Because we can see her sitting... it looks like her bedroom she's in there.
VINE: How old do you think she is?
JAMES: She's... unless she's lying, she's 16.
VINE: Talking from the privacy of our bedrooms gives a false sense of security, and if someone asked them to do something online they later regret, is it realistic to expect our children to tell us, their parents, about it?
Sexual Crime Consultant
Most children do not come home and talk about their sexual encounters with their parents. The problem with the internet is that it opens up a door for offenders to use their money, their resources, their charm.
It's amazing, you go on there and instantly you're hit by all these people who just want to see one thing. It's not really.... it's not fun to me, unless the other person's got a webcam and then it can be a way of passing time, you know.
VINE: James is rarely alone when passing the time. His webcam means strangers are in his room too, asking him to take his shirt off, strike a pose and even get naked. James is not unique. There are others like him, not remotely nervous about giving strangers a peepshow on the webcam. They do it for gifts. Youngsters of both sexes post wish lists, maybe DVDs, CDs, video games and so on, online on reputable internet shopping sites. Men then buy them items from their wish list in return for a flash, or more, online. So when a man offered James money for an X rated show via webcam when he was 16, it was no big deal. James never even had to leave his room. The payment was made online.
JAMES: I chatted with him for a little while, he seemed like a right sad guy, and he was asking me to do stuff. I thought yeah, okay I'll do it, but you've gotta pay me. So... and I did do it once and other than that....
VINE: What, you... when you say you "did it" you take your clothes off and you did a sexual act down the webcam.
VINE: But when you got the money, did you not think: It wasn't really worth it?
JAMES: No. No, it was worth it because I got quite a few... ah good use out of that game.
VINE: You bought a video game with it.
JAMES: You know, the games are expensive, about fifty quid a pop. So.. you know, fifty quid, that's my price - for that. It was just like... what.. 15 minutes worth and I didn't have to talk to him or anything.
VINE: So far we've talked about youngsters as victims but James doesn't see it that way. He thinks the web has put him in charge. Maybe I'm a bit 20th century but I felt sorry for him. The net has taken him down a slippery slope. He hasn't yet told his parents what he's been up to in their home.
RAY WYRE: Trust isn't something you give out like lollipops. Trust is something that young people and children earn and that we must not disqualify ourselves from parenting. Do not trust your children when it comes to using the internet. Understand how offenders operate in that they bring children into secrets and they corrupt.
VINE: The Met's Paedophile Unit hunts down online predators. The scale of the task is huge. See here offenders' computers stacked high in a secret location. The police team go undercover to flush out online perverts and are now using the same tricks as the predators. Last year they caught Brian Page, a 63-year-old from Bromley in Kent.
DUFFIELD: This is the conversation that Brian Page was having with a covert internet investigator who was purporting to be a young 12-year-old girl.
VINE: So he says: "When you want sex..." and the 12-year-old who isn't a 12-year-old is kind of replying but not leading him on, is that right?
DUFFIELD: Absolutely, she's asking the question: "Who? Who is it you're talking about?" just to make it quite clear that Brian Page is referring to himself, and he quite clearly there answers: "Me, and you can have it any time." And he's now suggesting a day of the week, it's coming from him, a suggestion when there might be an opportunity to meet up to have sex.
VINE: They had just five online chats with Page before their date.
GIRL: Do you think I'm too young?
VINE: And he says: "No" so at that point the trap is closed.
DUFFIELD: He's prepared to travel to meet the girl in order to carry out that act.
VINE: This pervert says: "Once you've done it, would you do it with another man?" so that's a new dimension for you.
DUFFIELD: In between this conversation he's sending images of children, he's sending some adult pornography to try and normalise this sex.
PAGE: You're my daughter for the day.
VINE: There's that disturbing phrase again. Page drove to a hotel to meet the schoolgirl. When he pulled up he was greeted not by the 12-year-old he was hoping to have sex with but by a strapping 6'3 policeman. In his car a kit for his day out with his so-called daughter.
DUFFIELD: When we arrested him we found the children's underwear which he'd spoken about in the chat logs. We found the condoms he'd spoken about, using protection, a camera to record the event, and indeed he'd even made a reservation as he'd discussed on the internet at a local hotel.
VINE: Page received three and a half years and will be placed on t he Sex Offenders' Register indefinitely. Worryingly our survey found some children are only too willing to meet a stranger in person. 12%, that's one in eight of the kids surveyed, had actually met someone they only knew online.
Source: GfK NOP phone poll
411 chidlren aged 11-16
A mere 3% of parents thought their child would meet up like this.
Source: GfK NOP phone poll
No one is suggesting the internet be somehow shut away from children, but the one thing I've learnt is that safety is in the hands of the computer user and if the user is a child, what should the parent do?
Head of Education, CEOP
Get your children to show you what they're using and through that you'll then see what the risks are and what you can personally do about those.
Always encourage them to tell you if they're ever concerned about anything, that they're not the ones that are at fault.
VINE: If you're not convinced by Jane and Helen, then maybe you will listen to this man. Remember Peter?
PETER: I think they need to talk to their children. I think they need to control what their children are doing online. I think they need to ensure that computers are dealt with sensibly.
VINE: And the number one tip from a predator: "Don't let your child have a computer in their bedroom, it is just too private. Put the screen in a busy family room.
VINE: As the person who is searching for a child, you see the dining room table behind the camera and you think: not this one!
PETER: I think if you see... particularly if you see a clearly public space and other people in that public space, then yes that is a very good deterrent.
Online safety advice for parents and kids can be found on our website bbc.co.uk/panorama
VINE: Well we handed police our files on the various men who tried to contact our Jane, one calling himself "Swim Coach" especially worried them, and just before Christmas the 43 year old was arrested on his way to a McDonald's in Torquay hoping to have sex with an underage girl. He has since pleaded guilty to three child sex offences and is now awaiting sentence.
Next week: "Destination UK" as desperate migrants seek a share of our wealth, the new attempts to shut down the illegal immigration routes into Europe.