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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 October 2007, 12:52 GMT
Sex offenders explain how and why

Hands on a keyboard
Members of Ceop are working to fight online child abuse

De-briefing interviews with sex offenders are being conducted in prisons by members of a new behavioural analysis unit to examine how they went about their crimes.

These interviews are being recorded, with 1,000 hours already having been collected, and then analysed by experts to learn more about offenders and their motivation.

The point of the unit, which is the newest part of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), is to "improve knowledge about offenders, why they do what they do and how we can prevent that from happening".

Ceop tackles child sex abuse and its new unit has a staff of four, which includes forensic psychologists and specialists in forensic behaviour analysis, who believe most sex offenders can be deterred from committing a crime.

"When you ask someone 'how' you often get the 'why'," explains a Ceop spokeswoman.

"It's a smarter way of tackling the problems of sex offences.

We know that paedophiles are networking online and offline, discussing how somebody got caught a certain way and how can they avoid the same fate

"We have a theoretical model that we work to called the spiral of abuse, and the idea is that if you can intercept someone at some point on the spiral, you can stop them.

"That's the theory, but it does depend on the individual."

International interviews

The unit's staff go into prisons and conduct the interviews themselves, asking open-ended questions in an attempt to get the offenders talking.

Exact figures for the number of interviewees are unavailable, but the unit's spokeswoman said some were overseas, not all were British and some were female.

Ceop conducts interviews overseas through its membership of the Virtual Global Task Force, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies working to prevent online child abuse.

If a British national was imprisoned in Australia, for example, members of Ceop's behavioural analysis unit would liaise with Australian police to enter their prison and conduct an interview.

"There are no incentives offered for offender participation.

"What our staff do say to them is that they're in prison, on the sex offenders' register and this is their chance to give something back, to explain their side of the story and help us understand better the minds of offenders.

"It's a confidential interview, it doesn't go beyond our building.

"But if someone discussed an unsolved crime then that information would be passed on to the police. The offenders are made aware of this."

Strategy forming

The information gathered could "change the course of police investigation strategy", for example altering the way police interview someone in custody to get more information from them.

And in particular it is hoped the unit, which will also employ external consultants, will prove valuable in learning about the tactics sex offenders are employing in trying to avoid detection.

"Offenders are getting more wise about making sure certain things aren't in images, which could lead to them getting caught.

"We have to keep one step ahead of them. What is written about the topic and put in the public domain about police detection methods will hold an interest for offenders.

"We know that paedophiles are networking online and offline, discussing how somebody got caught a certain way and how can they avoid the same fate.

"They're becoming more tech savvy and savvy to police tactics."

We have a theoretical model that we work to called the spiral of abuse, and the idea is that if you can intercept someone at some point on the spiral, you can stop them

Ceop has also launched its own educational academy at its base in Pimlico, London, which will see child protection workers from a number of fields, including police and the charity sector, studying for a University of Central Lancashire-accredited qualification.

They will be shown clips of how sex offenders justify their actions as part of their training.

"Those taking the course won't be naive enough to think that everything being said is going to be true.

"They're trying to get into the mind of an offender and understand their motivation."

And what of those working for the unit, who have to sit through hours of testimony from convicted sex offenders?

"Everybody deals with this in their individual way. Counselling is mandatory in some parts of the organisation, depending on the level of service.

"If someone wants to walk away from a recording then they're absolutely free to do so, there's no shame in that.

"There are mechanisms in place to help them but they are all professionals and very experienced at what they're doing."

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