Crown Prosecution Service and police discuss new strategy to combat child sex abuse
By Mark Conrad | 5 April 2013
Senior police officers want to make widespread use of civil-protection orders – similar to Asbos – to tackle child sexual exploitation.
Exaro can reveal that senior police officers are in discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Whitehall officials over the new strategy to combat the activities of suspected child-grooming rings and paedophiles.
The talks follow revelations about the failure of authorities to stop the sexual abuse of children by Jimmy Savile, the BBC star who died in 2011, and Cyril Smith, the late former Liberal MP, despite evidence of their activities gathered by police over many years.
Senior police officers say that they often have to cut short investigations into members of active groups or gangs that are sexually abusing children for the sake of protecting potential victims.
Peter Davies, the UK’s most senior police officer responsible for tackling child sex abuse, told Exaro that making greater use of civil-protection orders may be a solution.
A court might, for example, order a suspected paedophile not to visit certain places, Davies explained. Any breach of such an order would be a crime and subject to prosecution.
Davies, head of child protection at the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said that some civil-protection orders were already aimed at sexual offenders, although mainly at those already convicted. New orders are being considered.
He said: “There are different types of orders obtained on a civil level of proof, the breach of which is a criminal offence. Some apply to sexual offenders. These are ‘Sexual Offences Prevention Orders’, ‘Risk of Sexual Harm Orders’, and ‘Foreign Travel Orders’.
“Those orders are not widely used. I think that it would be possible to take another look at whether those orders could be used more freely to stop this kind of activity taking place, or whether there are other forms of order that are just as proportionate and could be developed to tackle this kind of offending more directly.”
They would be similar to ‘Anti-Social Behaviour Orders’, dubbed ‘Asbos’. Introduced in 1999, these orders bar suspects from engaging in specific types of “anti-social behaviour”, and breaches are treated as crimes.
They are controversial among civil-liberties campaigners who accuse authorities of often securing such orders with thin evidence.
But this has not deterred Davies, who is also chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), the London-based police unit that works with forces throughout the UK to tackle sexual abuse of children.
He said: “The whole concept of the ‘civil order into criminal penalty’ was developed to address the issue around anti-social behaviour, where people were afraid to give evidence because of the very nature of the harm to which they were being subjected.
“Something had to be done to provide justice for them, and that is how Asbos were born. I think that the experiences and the situation of victims of child sexual exploitation are similar in principle to that.
“What we are not seeing is that kind of process being used in large volume to protect victims. That is something that should be explored. That is a conversation that we are still developing.”
He also believes that a strategy focussed on such orders, would help the CPS overhaul the authorities’ approach to combating sexual abuse of children.
Jonathan Bird, operations manager of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: “There is a good case for more use of civil-protection orders to manage people who are a danger to children.”
Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions, last month announced a review of how police and prosecutors should treat allegations of such abuse. “We cannot afford another Savile moment in five or 10 years’ time,” he said.
A CPS spokesman told Exaro: “The CPS and ACPO are currently hosting a series of round-table discussions with bodies and individuals with responsibility, interest or expertise in the field. These discussions will inform interim guidance that will then be subject to wider public consultation.”
Police are running at least 30 “major” operations that are investigating child sexual exploitation by groups or gangs in the UK.
Ministers are under pressure to fund support services for people who were sexually abused as children in such cases.
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