UK cops failed to act on Canadian intel on child abuse

New command has better info-sharing practices, apparently

UK police sat on intelligence about more than 2,000 child abuse suspects for 15 months, according to a damning report from independent watchdogs published on Tuesday.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) - staffed by police officers with specialist training in tracking and prosecuting sex offenders - failed to forward leads supplied by Canadian police in July 2012 until October 2013, when an update was requested from Toronto-based police.

The data - which related to 2,345 suspected paedophiles who had bought child abuse material through a North American website - was "poorly handled" by UK’s policing-led child protection agency, according to police watchdogs.

“The information had not been fully processed or sent to UK police forces for their consideration,” the IPCC concluded. The files were initially handled properly but the process stopped there and intelligence wasn’t passed on to individual police forces to act upon, it said.

“There was evidence of a lack of a general understanding or agreement as to who had ownership of the issue for some time, disagreements as to which team within the organisation might have the capacity to take the lead and consider and process the information most appropriately,” the police watchdog organisation added.

The problem was exacerbated by the backlog of work CEOP faced at the time. The IPCC nonetheless faulted CEOP for its failure to lay down procedures to track the process of referrals as well as the evident absence of adequate supervision.

The failure to act promptly on intelligence from Project Spade reportedly delayed action against Cambridge doctor Myles Bradbury, who was subsequently convicted and jailed for abusing underage cancer patients. Action against other suspects was also delayed.

A police officer, seconded to CEOP at the time of the incident, faced misconduct proceedings over the handling of the data but senior officers concluded these allegations were “not proven” at a hearing on Monday 10 October.

CEOP fell under the command of the Serious Organised Crime Agency at the time of the incident. SOCA was replaced by the National Crime Agency in October 2013. Procedures have been improved in line with recommendations from two internal reviews into intelligence-handling shortcomings.

An NCA spokesperson said: “In 2014, the National Crime Agency (NCA) made a referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in relation to the handling of intelligence by CEOP, which it had received from Toronto Police in connection with Operation Spade in 2012. On the 7 October 2013, CEOP became a command of the National Crime Agency.

“It was right to refer the matter to the IPCC and the investigation has now concluded. No NCA officers faced any misconduct charges but one has received words of advice. As the IPCC has noted, the NCA commissioned two internal reviews to ensure that processes were improved. All of the recommendations of these reviews were accepted and have been implemented.

“The NCA’s CEOP Command now has transformed significantly over the last 18 months with the investment of £10m announced at the WeProtect summit in 2014. In 2015/16, 1,802 children were safeguarded or protected as a result of NCA activity and over 4,100 disseminations were made to police.” ®

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