PM's child-abuse police figures are wrong, says ex-CEOP chief
Former head of CEOP disputes PM's claims of 50% rise in numbers of police investigating child abuse
Updated at 3:40pm The former head of CEOP has disputed claims made by the prime minister that the number of police investigating child abuse has increased by 50%.
Both the prime minister and his adviser on the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, Claire Perry MP, referred to a "50% increase in CEOP staffing levels" in separate interviews yesterday, after announcing new measures to tackle online child abuse. Perry repeated the claim on her Twitter account.
CEOP is haemorrhaging people at the moment
CEOP officials claim staff numbers have increased from 85 in 2010 to 130 in June of this year. However, former CEOP chief executive Jim Gamble told PC Pro there's been no significant increase in the number of staff since he left the organisation in 2010.
"I don't recognise those [50%] figures as being the CEOP complement," he said. "When I left CEOP our complement would have been over 120. There clearly is some devil in the detail here."
"I am simply concerned that figures are being retrospectively transposed or translated in a way that fits the statements that have been made," Gamble added. "I have met the prime minister and his wife and I know they are committed to children and young people... but I really am concerned that he is being poorly advised and that some of the information being set in front of him isn't as accurate as it should be."
Tracy Edwards MBE, the former round-the-world yachtswoman who worked as a project manager for CEOP in 2007, also disputes the staff numbers. "When I worked there in 2007/2008, there were 109 staff. Today there are 110," said Edwards, who claims to remain close to serving CEOP executives.
"A few years ago there was an increase of about 20 people, but it is back down now to 110," she added.
"CEOP is haemorrhaging people at the moment," Edwards told PC Pro. "People are just leaving because they are under-funded and under-supported. When you join CEOP, it's not just a job, there's a real sense of purpose. The job these people do is so horrendous that you have to know that what you're doing is actually leading to something. There are a lot of very unhappy people there at the moment."
CEOP officials insist the 50% increase stated by the prime minister and Perry is accurate.
CEOP is being absorbed into the National Crime Agency in October, and while CEOP's annual report states the merger will provide access to "a larger pool of NCA officers that will improve our resilience to surges in demand, which often occur following a high-profile child-abuse case or the launch of a new awareness raising campaign to the public", the spokesman insisted that the CEOP staffing numbers were independent of the NCA merger.
Edwards claims the official CEOP payroll figures fail to take account of staff who were paid for by charity organisations or were on secondment from other police departments. "SOCA [the Serious Organised Crime Agency] lent people to CEOP to clear a backlog in 2008/9," Edwards claims.
Last year, CEOP chief executive Peter Davies said the organisation would have to cut its budget by 10% following a reduction in government funding.
Edwards says that the companies Cameron attacked yesterday for not doing enough to tackle online child-abuse images are among those plugging the funding gap. "Theresa May reduced the funding to CEOP, she specifically took money away from them, and now CEOP is partly funded by the NSPCC, by Google and by Microsoft, which put a huge amount of money already into the policing of our children," she said.
CEOP insists it has been able to increase staff numbers despite the budget cuts. "CEOP is currently in the third year of a three-year comprehensive spending review. Over the three-year period, we have planned to make a 10% cut in our budget. We have always taken a view that we can absorb the reduction by working efficiently, whilst being mindful that other public services have had to endure deeper cuts than ours.
"CEOP underwent a modernisation process in 2012 that created a more effective structure, reduced senior management and put more officers at the sharp end of our service. And as our Annual Review recently published illustrates, we are more productive than ever.
"Our transition into a Command in the National Crime Agency later this year will strengthen the number of officers carrying out our mission; to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse."
However, Edwards insists that the reduced funding is letting known paedophiles escape punishment. "CEOP has incredible intelligence on people who are abusing children," she said. "They have the intelligence on who these people are, where they are, but they don't have the resources to go and arrest them, and they certainly don't have the resources to go through their computer drives."
Her comments were backed up by Jim Gamble in an interview with Radio 4's Today programme. "This government has stood still for two years with regards to CEOP - CEOP's budget has, in real terms, decreased," he said. "There are 50,000 predators, we're told by CEOP, downloading images on peer-to-peer, not Google, peer-to-peer. Yet from CEOP intelligence, only 192 were arrested last year."
Edwards also claimed that the prime minister was announcing initiatives that were already in place. "When he sat with those famililes, with Tia Sharp's parents and April Jones' parents in that well-crafted piece in Downing Street, and he sat there and he said to them 'we're going to create a database', I was screaming at the television because Childbase was launched in 2003... It's a database of child-abuse images, it has millions of images in it already.
"I just thought: how don't you know this? Why are you sitting there telling these people that you're going to create something that already exists but you're not funding properly?"