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UK head of online child protection resigns

Demands 'arm's length relationship' - or he's off

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Jim Gamble, head of the UK’s Child Exploitation Online Protection Unit (CEOP), has resigned in a row over the supposed independence of his fiefdom.

The announcement was made late Monday night, and it appears to be Gamble’s response to the outwardly technical issue of whether CEOP is to remain part of the new National Crime Agency (NCA), the successor to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), or should be given greater operational independence by being divided off as a new "arm’s length" body.

A white paper (pdf) published as recently as January of this year concluded: "CEOP was set up as an affiliate of SOCA, with a separate Board and Chief Executive. From CEOP’s inception it was always the Government’s intention to allow it to prove itself as a concept and then to review the Centre’s governance arrangements after a suitable period.

"This period of development has contributed to allowing CEOP to become the success that it is. Having considered the success that the Centre has become, and the need to provide protection for children on the internet on a long-term basis, the Government believes that the CEOP Centre should become a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB)."

This view was evidently shared by Gamble. A spokesman for CEOP told us: "The shift from being part of SOCA to being an independent agency in its own right was seen by Mr Gamble – amongst others – as being the right way to go. That change would enable CEOP to grow and develop and, most importantly, to focus on its core business of protecting children.

"However, the Home Office appears to take a different view of the right approach.”

This view was made abundantly clear in a consultation paper – Policing in the 21st century – which contains the clear implication that CEOP would remain within the NCA. It was also evident in the Home Secretary’s failure to answer a question from her predecessor, Alan Johnson MP, on the day that the consultation paper was published as to the future of CEOP.

As of last night, the situation remained unclear. The official CEOP line was that Gamble has offered his resignation, but that the Home Secretary had still to respond, and that in any case he would remain in post for the next four months while a successor was found.

A statement from the Home Office appears to be more terminal, as the Home Secretary stated: "I have today been notified of Jim Gamble's resignation. As Chief Executive Jim Gamble has done a great job at CEOP and made a huge contribution to protecting children.

"I wish him all the best for the future and arrangements for his successor will be outlined in due course.

"The government recognises the importance of child protection and wants to build upon the work of CEOP, but does not necessarily feel this is best done by creating a new quango."

Jim Gamble has been virtually synonymous with CEOP since it was set up in 2006. Together they have been the driving force behind a range of UK initiatives to combat paedophile activity online – particularly in the area of P2P exchange of material not covered by the Internet Watch Foundation.

Gamble has been a fierce and often uncompromising advocate for online protection measures, including panic buttons on social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo. The world of child protection is unlikely to be quite the same without him. ®

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