Page last updated at 15:25 GMT, Friday, 1 August 2008 16:25 UK

Police admit child porn mistakes

Box files
The printed emails were stored in a number of box files

Police admit they "could have done things better" after telling a landlady to destroy thousands of pages of child pornography she found in a flat.

Julie Woollacott found the fictional stories of men having sex with boys when she was clearing out the property in Barnstaple after the tenant died.

She said the officers she contacted were also unwilling to seize two computers and a number of video tapes.

Devon and Cornwall Police are holding an internal inquiry into the matter.

'Horrifying' discovery

Thousands of paper copies of sexually explicit e-mails were found in the flat and in box files loaded into three trunks outside.

It is believed they belonged to the flat's tenant, who died last week.

Ms Woollacott owns the property and rents it out through an agency.

She said the discovery of the e-mails was "absolutely horrifying, horrendous".

They [the police] said that now the bloke has died, they've got enough cases dealing with live people to chase up
Julie Woollacott

Ms Woollacott and her partner Tracey Phipps said they contacted police as soon as they found the stories.

They said an officer who came to investigate told them, confidentially, to get rid of the e-mails.

The couple also reported they had found more than 200 video tapes, labelled with children's film and television show names, as well as two computers.

"They [the police] said that now the bloke has died, they've got enough cases dealing with live people to chase up, that they just haven't got the manpower to deal with it," Mr Phipps said.

The couple were so disturbed by the e-mails that they decided to get in touch with their local MP, the Liberal Democrat Nick Harvey.

Tracey Phipps leafing through emails
Tracey Phipps and his partner were concerned about destroying evidence

He said: "They were concerned that possible evidence was going to be allowed to be destroyed."

Detectives moved "pretty quickly" to seize the material and secure the flat once he contacted them.

Supt Stuart Lander, from Devon and Cornwall Police, said: "We could have done things better.

"The officers acted in the way they felt was best at the time. Other people have looked at their decision and made a different one."

He said the force was holding an internal inquiry to learn lessons from the incident.

The external investigation into the origins of the pornographic e-mails, which themselves are not illegal, was likely to be "protracted", he said.

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