Operation Notarise: a snapshot of child abuse in the UK

Results of Operation Notarise serve only to underline the complexity and scale of the problem facing law enforcement

The NCA’s cyber-crime unit has undoubtedly brought expertise to investigations that have historically struggled to grip the so-called ‘dark net’. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Of the 660 suspects arrested, the only common thread was that they used the internet to look up pictures of children being sexually abused. There was no single website, no organised paedophile ring and almost 90% of those arrested were not on the radar of police.
The suspects come from all walks of life, from paediatricians to former police officers, and from across the UK: 51 people were arrested in Wales, 13 in Scotland, and 41 in the West Midlands.
As a snapshot of child abuse in the UK, the results of Operation Notarise served only to underline the complexity and scale of the problem facing law enforcement.
Although wary not to reveal how they tracked down the of suspected child abusers, detectives were keen to stress that it wasn’t a technological breakthrough that led to the arrests. The NCA’s cyber-crime unit, which launched in spring 2013, has undoubtedly brought desperately-needed expertise to investigations that have historically struggled to grip the so-called “dark net”, a hidden corner of the internet where offenders swap illegal material often undetected.
Rather, the breakthrough was in how the NCA for the first time co-ordinated a major investigation involving each of the UK’s 45 police forces. Since February, a senior chief officer from each force met discreetly with the NCA and Norfolk’s chief constable Simon Bailey, the national police lead for child protection and abuse investigations, to share “intelligence packages”. It might not seem like a profound shift in approach, but it was this nationwide intelligence sharing that police believe led to the arrests.
It would be wrong, however, to conclude that police chiefs have discovered a silver bullet to tackle the spread of child abuse material online. Two years ago the NCA estimated that 50,000 people in the UK were involved in sharing child abuse images online, and in the past 20 years the number of images available has soared to tens of millions.
The Internet Watch Foundation, a tiny Cambridge-based unit which polices indecent images of children online, dealt with 13,000 such images in 2013 and it expects that figure to quadruple this year. Most of the illegal images are just a few clicks away, on foreign-based sites. “It’s a real problem for us because these sites are based outside the UK the content is not being removed and that’s a major issue,” said IWF chief executive Susie Hargreaves.”We don’t know how many people are looking at these images but if they think it’s okay then they’re going to have a big shock today.”
Claire Lilley, head of online safety at the NSPCC, said the operation had sent a strong warning to child abusers that they will be traced and prosecuted. But she added: “Industry has to find inventive ways of blocking the flow of such horrendous pictures which are only produced through the suffering of defenceless children – many of who are not even old enough to go to school.”So while this operation must be rightly applauded we should view it as yet another warning sign that far more needs to be done if we are to stem the sordid trade in these images, which are often used by those who go on to abuse children.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *