Police chief stands by suggestion to tackle child sexual abuse

Chief Constable Simon Bailey. Photo : Steve Adams

Chief Constable Simon Bailey. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

He has confronted one of the most sensitive issues affecting society today.

But chief constable Simon Bailey's suggestion on how to tackle child sex abuse has divided opinion.

Norfolk's police chief says he will not 'shy away' from his suggestion on how to deal with those accused of child sexual abuse.

Simon Bailey yesterday said that not all paedophiles should receive criminal sanctions unless they pose a physical threat to children.

Instead, he said lower-level offenders who have looked at indecent images should be given counselling and rehabilitation.

He believed it would enable police to focus on the most dangerous paedophiles who have access to children and those looking at the most serious images.

The suggestion made national headlines yesterday and has since stirred much public debate online.

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But Mr Bailey, who is the National Police Chief's Council lead for child protection, has today stood by his comments.

He said: 'What I have said is that the police service is facing an unprecedented demand in terms of reports of child sex exploitation.

'Whilst we are arresting 400 men every month, and safeguarding 500 children every month, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

'People need to know exactly what the police force is having to deal with and I will not shy away from this. We have got to have this debate.'

Mr Bailey said low-risk offenders were already not receiving custodial sentences under the current system.

He suggested that those arrested of such crimes could instead be handed a conditional caution and required to go on a rehabilitation course.

However, this would only apply to those who police can identify as low-risk and do not have access to children.

Mr Bailey, who accepted that his comments might be 'unpalatable' to some, added: 'It would still require them to stay on the sex offenders register, but it would free-up capacity to target those individuals who pose the threat of rape and serious sexual abuse.'

He added there would need to be sufficient resources in place to ensure those arrested could receive counselling.

The Birmingham-based organisation, Lucy Faithfull Foundation is one organisation already undertaking work to try and rehabilitate would-be sex offenders.

Mr Bailey said: 'If evidence proves it [the foundation's work] is having an impact, then we would need to look at scaling it up.'

His comments have been supported by criminologist Dr Nic Groombridge, who said police only have so much resource they can allocate.

He explained: 'He is publicly saying what a lot of people are thinking. We simply don't have enough police officers and prisons to cope.

'Always in policing you are having to think how do you spend your money and you are constantly being pulled all over the place.

'He is right in thinking we will catch more people by concentrating on the more serious offenders.'

Mr Groombridge, formerly of Heacham in Norfolk, added: 'Clearly we have not done enough about this in the past, and so there is a certain amount of catching up to do.'

A poll on the EDP and Evening News website found that 67pc of the 163 people who voted disagreed with Mr Bailey's comments.

Meanwhile, figures released through a Freedom of Information request, the number of online child sex offenders in Norfolk has increased over the past three years.

In 2014, 152 offenders were identified by police in Norfolk. This increased to 352 in 2015 and 517 in 2016.

The home office said once of the aims of its Serious & Organised Crime Strategy, published in 2013, was to reduce the level of child sexual exploitation.

It explained the strategy's immediate priority was to 'prosecute and relentlessly disrupt the threat offenders pose to children.'

But the home office added work was also being carried out to deter offenders.

It has allocated £20m to the National Crime Agency for specialist teams to tackle online child sexual exploitation.

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