Staffordshire Police launch Operation Safenet to tackle online child abuse


Staffordshire Police are warning people viewing sexually explicit images of children that the next knock at the door could be officers from a new team set-up to keep children safe from harm.

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Operation Safenet has been launched by Staffordshire Police with the aim of safeguarding children by detecting abuse and prosecuting offenders for the possession and distribution of indecent images of children. This new approach brings together police officers and highly skilled digital forensics staff, to proactively seek out those using the internet to view and exchange these images in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.

Each week the team use the latest digital investigative techniques to identify where in the county illegal images are being viewed. This intelligence is then used to apply to a magistrate for a search warrant, allowing the police and digital forensic experts to raid the home to seize evidence and arrest those involved.

Photo of Jon Drake
ACC Jon Drake

Assistant Chief Constable Jon Drake from Staffordshire Police said: “I cannot give away too much detail about how we identify the homes we need to target but I am both shocked and saddened by the number of people involved in this criminal behaviour. We have done something innovative with Operation Safenet, using the latest mobile based technology we set up a digital forensics laboratory in the home of the suspect and examine the computers, mobiles, tablets and data storage devices within minutes of arresting the suspect.

“The forensics staff work with the police officers in the address to immediately secure evidence for a prosecution so a quick decision can be made regarding charging and putting the suspect before the courts.

“This triage approach to the evidence gathering means we can immediately take action to prevent further offences and importantly take action to protect any children at risk. Ultimately that is the aim of Operation Safenet.”

Staffordshire Police and its partners are committed to making children in the county safer. In addition, we’re developing the ways we target people who commit online child abuse, grooming and exploitation.

Operation Safenet has a team of 10 officers who have come together to proactively deal with, manage and reduce the threat, risk and harm posed by online child abuse and they are supported by experts in digital forensics.

Working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) the team use an internationally recognised system to gather intelligence and we are already achieving a far faster charging decision, often resulting in the suspect appearing at court within four weeks of their arrest.

ACC Jon Drake continued “Most importantly the operation has seen safeguarding action being taken to protect 23 children who were at risk of being harmed and abused. It has also resulted a number of arrests and charges.

“I want those accessing such images to really think about their actions. Often they think there isn’t a victim because they might not have any direct contact with the children in the images, but those children are victims of abuse and were abused to make those images. We will continue to tackle this issue and take enforcement action to protect children until we know children are safe. Sadly I am concerned this will take a long time but Staffordshire Police will continue our efforts to do this.”

The police are hoping the very real risk of being arrested will deter some offenders from committing further offences.

A new dedicated website (http://www.operationsafenet.co.uk/) has been launched by Staffordshire Police to highlight updates on the work being done by Operation Safenet. The site will feature updates on the number of children safeguarded, the number of suspects arrested and advice and information for those concerned about their own or someone else’s behaviour.

Three examples of the impact Operation Safenet has had so far are included below.

A warrant was executed at an address in North Staffordshire where a man was arrested for possessing and making indecent images of children. A search was conducted and a number of digital items were recovered.

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As a result of Operation Safenet and the immediate digital examination of devices, serious contact offences showing a woman engaging in sexual activity with a young child were identified. These images were graphic in nature. Through intelligence and social media, the woman and the child (her daughter) were identified.

The woman, who had four children and lived in another area of the country, was arrested by her local Police force, interviewed and charged regarding the matter. During the interview she fully admitted the offences.

Safeguarding referrals have been made regarding all of her children and the woman has been remanded in custody for a future court appearance.

The man from North Staffordshire lived with six children (not his own) and had access to two of his own children. They have all been safeguarded. The man has been charged and remanded into custody for a future court appearance. The man is also suspected of committing voyeurism offences and an investigation into this is ongoing.

The Operation Safenet team obtained and executed a search warrant at a home in Stafford where it was suspected the occupant had accessed indecent images of children between March 2014 and June 2015.

A 66-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of possession of indecent images of children. As a result of the on-scene examination of the computers, further indecent images were recovered and a further 24-year-old man was arrested at the address. Both have been interviewed and remain on bail until later this month (August).

The Operation Safenet team obtained and executed at search warrant at a home in Stafford where it was suspected the occupant had accessed indecent images of children via social media. A 35-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of making and distributing of indecent images of children. As a result of the on-scene examination of the computers, he was charged on the same day with six offences of possession of indecent images of children and six charges of distributing indecent images of children. He was remanded in custody and is due to appear in court on Wednesday 26 August.

Author: bailey9799

Communications Manager at Staffordshire Police