“It can be horrific,” says Sergeant Chris Hood when considering the indecent images of children officers must view as part of their investigations.
But looking at such distressing photographs is just one part of the work done by Staffordshire Police’s Operation Safenet team who are responsible for not only bringing offenders to justice but safeguarding youngsters.
The initiative was set up back in 2015 in an effort to detect abuse and prosecute offenders for the possession and distribution of indecent images of children.
In the last 12 months, officers have acted on more than 380 referrals – where cases have come in to the Safenet team from agencies and other forces. In addition, over the last year around 230 children have been safeguarded.
And over the last two weeks, the team have carried out seven warrants and arrested six men and safeguarded 37 children. They also conducted voluntary searches and voluntary interviews.
The Safenet team works with forces not just across the UK but across the globe along with the National Crime Agency. Sergeant Hood said: “While the offender may be in Staffordshire they may be accessing platforms in other countries and are in contact with individuals in different places.”
How forces deal with online abuse was brought to the fore recently as millions tuned in to Channel 4’s hard-hitting documentary Undercover Police: Hunting Paedophiles, where viewers saw officers go online, posing as youngsters and speak with adults looking to exploit them.
Sergeant Hood said: “We do work with the team who featured on that programme and other regional undercover units. Our role doesn’t involve going into online chat rooms, but we act on the information and intelligence presented to us.”
But it is the Safenet officers who will conduct arrests, seize devices – and allow the force’s digital forensic team to carry out in-depth checks.
And when suspects are arrested their reactions can differ before the enormity of being registered as a sex offender dawns on them. Sergeant Hood said: “Some don’t see anything wrong with what they have done, others just look to blame other people, and then you have some who are relieved as they know what they have been doing is wrong.
“It can be horrific looking at the images and we do have a buddy system where it’s done in pairs so you have someone to speak to while going through it.”
Once the interviews have been completed, individuals charged and dealt with at court, Sergeant Hood knows their lives will not be the same again. He said: “They can ultimately be shunned by not only society but their families for what they have done.
“The fact is the children on the images we see are being abused and by downloading such content it is creating a market and perpetuating these horrific crimes. We will continue our work to bring people to justice and work with forces across the globe to target anyone who seeks to exploit children.”
A 41-year-old man, from Lichfield, was arrested on suspicion of possession of an indecent photograph/pseudo-photograph of a child. He was bailed pending further enquiries.
A 29-year-old man, from Cannock, and a 58-year-old man, from Stoke-on-Trent, were arrested on suspicion of making an indecent photograph/pseudo-photograph of a child. Both were bailed pending further enquiries.
A 34-year-old man, from Stoke-on-Trent, was arrested on suspicion of possession of an indecent photograph/pseudo-photograph of a child. He was released under investigation pending further enquiries.
A 33-year-old man, from Stoke-on-Trent, was arrested on suspicion of possession to show/distribute pseudo photograph of a child. He was bailed pending further enquiries.
A 36-year-old man, from Leek, was arrested on suspicion of making an indecent photograph/pseudo-photograph of a child. He was released no further investigation.