Thames Valley Police paedophile investigation team vows to crack down on child sexual abuse online

Officers have been carrying out a series of investigative activities including warrants at locations across the force area in relation to combating online child sexual abuse, making a number of arrests, and seizing electronic devices associated with this sort of offending.

Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 3:51 pm

This paper spoke to Detective Inspector Jon Axford, from TVP's Paedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT), about the challenges his team had been facing and the full scope of the problem.

Online sexual abuse is any type of sexual abuse that happens on the web, whether through social networks, online gaming or using mobile phones. In some cases this involves children being groomed or exploited by an adult.

He said: "As a police force we've experienced a large number of referrals and a surge in demand for investigations into people sharing or in-fact creating pornographic images of children.

Online sexual abuse is any type of sexual abuse that happens on the web, whether through social networks, online gaming or using mobile phones. In some cases this involves children being groomed or exploited by an adult.

"There has also been a lot of people communicating with children with a view to meeting them."

In response to this surge, Detective Inspector Axford and the TVP POLIT team have over the last month begun a series of actions against alleged offenders in the Thames Valley area.

They have been carrying out warrants, arresting people, searching properties and seizing electronic equipment which may contain evidence.

Det Insp Axford said the team had also been out on safeguarding visits where children themselves had uploaded indecent pictures of themselves or others as part of the project.

Abuse

He added that one of the contributing factors to a rise in referrals for children was the proliferation of smart phones amongst young children.

The POLIT Team consists of 12 people, and is the single point of contact for referrals from the National Crime Agency.

Det Insp Axford said: "Due to the large amount of referrals as a force, totalling 621 in just 12 months, we do rely on local officers as well to help us carry out this line of work.

"The success rate is very high, the intelligence is accurate and reliable and we are fully expecting the majority of the cases we have put together to lead to prosecutions.

"Due to the large number of cases we are processing however, this could take some time."

The POLIT Team investigate often seize electronic devices and surveilling them.

They will also search properties but the majority of evidence is found on electronic devices.

"We often find it's usually just the tip of the iceberg, we get a referral and a warrant to search properties and devices and the scale of offending becomes apparent very quickly," Det Insp Axford added.

"Offenders sometimes work in networks, sharing indecent material with others offenders.

"But we do get a real range of the types of offences.

"Sometimes people operate on their own trying to talk to children."

He issued a statement to would-be offenders, stressing that the harm they were causing innocent children was something to consider before viewing or sharing these types of images.

He said: "Behind every image you share or look at there is a child who is being abused.

"They may not know the child, it may be from another country but you cannot distance yourselves from the abuse that is going on.

"Behind everyone of those images there is a child who is being abused by someone they trust.

"By sharing and viewing the images, you are creating demand for them and fuelling this horrible trade.

"If you're looking to communicate with a child with a view to meeting them take a minute to think about the harm you are doing and the consequences of your actions."