Online predators warned: we will hunt you down

Helen Murphy and Janine Duffin

Ashleigh Hall

First published in News Darlington and Stockton Times: Photograph of the Author Exclusive by , Reporter (Durham)

A SPECIALIST squad of computer whizz crime fighters has pledged to hunt down the region’s internet predators, after online child grooming cases more than doubled in just one year.

Durham Police’s E-Safety Unit saw its caseload rocket from 14 in 2012 to 39 last year.

But Helen Murphy, strategic co-ordinator for the sexual violence strategy, said: “We are warning perpetrators that no matter how clever you are or what software you’re using, we are one step ahead and we will catch you.”

Online grooming has rarely been out of the headlines since Darlington teenager Ashleigh Hall was murdered in 2009 by convicted sex offender Peter Chapman, who had posed as a 19-year-old on Facebook.

After Ashleigh’s death, The Northern Echo launched a Safety Net campaign to raise awareness of internet safety and make it a compulsory part of the school curriculum.

Today (Tuesday, February 11), Darlington College, where Ashleigh was a student, will be one of many schools and colleges across the country taking part in Safer Internet Day.

Durham Police’s E-Safety Unit, which is six-strong, was formed two years ago, replacing the Computer Crime Unit, and works closely with the national Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop).

There are three goals: to prevent online exploitation through educational work, to catch offenders and to support victims.

Miss Murphy said: “This offending ruins lives.

“We have had people in the cells with no previous convictions, a good job and a family life and they’re crying because their wife will leave them, they’ll lose their job – it’s their life over.”

She said the increase in cases showed children were more willing to speak out.

But it’s not just the numbers, the nature of offending is changing too.

While previously predators would spend a lot of time targeting one child, now they might send hundreds of emails or messages at a time and be explicit immediately, Detective Constable Andrew Hartley said.

In a recent case, one man had been speaking to more than 100 girls, some as young as nine.

To report abusive behaviour online, call Crimestoppers on 0800-555-111 or click Ceop’s ‘report abuse’ button.

If you are concerned about a child, call 0845-850-5010 in County Durham or 01325-346-867 from Darlington.

Comments (2)

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1:07pm Tue 11 Feb 14

latsot says...

It's great that we have specialist police teams working on this issue, It's appropriate that the police focus on preventing crime and apprehending criminals. I have some concerns about the methods specialist units like this might use to garner evidence and I hope they are properly scrutinised and transparent, but I'm otherwise all for the police using technological expertise to prevent abuse of every kind.

The main problem we have, however, is that people don't understand how to protect their privacy. There's no reason why they should: the world has changed very quickly and nobody is really prepared for it. There aren't any adequate mechanisms to protect our privacy online and there's not yet a demand for better mechanisms because we don't yet understand the consequences of the decisions we make about revealing information and we underestimate the value of controlling information about ourselves.

We can make the online world a safer place but we need to learn more about how the decisions we make about privacy affect our and others' lives. We need a green cross code of online behaviour and a way to package this message as something that can trickle down through generations as tacit knowledge. Technology exists and is being developed that can help to protect our privacy and reduce opportunities for abuse, but it isn't going to become mainstream until people demand it.

You are less in control of your private information than you think you are. When you buy something from a company online or over the phone you give them your address, even though they don't need it: it's the courier that needs the address, not the retailer.

That's an example that pales when we consider the abuse of children, but an example of why we let people take information about us that they do not need and of why we need to be more careful about our privacy.
It's great that we have specialist police teams working on this issue, It's appropriate that the police focus on preventing crime and apprehending criminals. I have some concerns about the methods specialist units like this might use to garner evidence and I hope they are properly scrutinised and transparent, but I'm otherwise all for the police using technological expertise to prevent abuse of every kind. The main problem we have, however, is that people don't understand how to protect their privacy. There's no reason why they should: the world has changed very quickly and nobody is really prepared for it. There aren't any adequate mechanisms to protect our privacy online and there's not yet a demand for better mechanisms because we don't yet understand the consequences of the decisions we make about revealing information and we underestimate the value of controlling information about ourselves. We can make the online world a safer place but we need to learn more about how the decisions we make about privacy affect our and others' lives. We need a green cross code of online behaviour and a way to package this message as something that can trickle down through generations as tacit knowledge. Technology exists and is being developed that can help to protect our privacy and reduce opportunities for abuse, but it isn't going to become mainstream until people demand it. You are less in control of your private information than you think you are. When you buy something from a company online or over the phone you give them your address, even though they don't need it: it's the courier that needs the address, not the retailer. That's an example that pales when we consider the abuse of children, but an example of why we let people take information about us that they do not need and of why we need to be more careful about our privacy. latsot
  • Score: 2

3:59pm Tue 11 Feb 14

punkrocker says...

good news but then how many of these dangerous pervs will only get a caution or pathetic fine.
good news but then how many of these dangerous pervs will only get a caution or pathetic fine. punkrocker
  • Score: -1

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