A government policy to tackle the growing problem of online child abuse is nonsensical and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how paedophiles target their victims, according to the former head of Britain’s online child protection agency.
Jim Gamble suggested David Cameron targeted Google – when the Prime Minister demanded in July that internet companies take action to block images of abuse – because the company had paid too little tax in the UK.
Mr Gamble, who resigned as head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in 2010, said the Prime Minister had been badly briefed before his intervention and called for new thinking.
Mr Gamble also called for the expansion of lie detector tests for those arrested for downloading child porn, in order to establish whether they have committed further offences, amid concerns of low reporting rates and failings by authorities in identifying serial abusers.
Mandatory polygraph testing will be introduced for the most serious child sex offenders after their release from prison next year to establish whether they present continued risks. But Mr Gamble said an opportunity had been missed following the convictions of Mark Bridger, who killed April Jones in Wales in October last year, and Stuart Hazell, who murdered Tia Sharp, to invest in research on paedophiles.
“Rather than having a debate about predatory paedophiles and how we can stop them earlier, we have had a debate about Google and blocking search terms,” Mr Gamble said at a conference in Belfast. “Mark Bridger or Stuart Hazell weren’t made paedophiles because they searched for something on Google.
“It’s nonsensical. The advice to the Prime Minster is bad from people who clearly don’t understand the first thing about the internet and child protection. We are now focusing on Google rather than investing in greater research: why they do it, when they do it. Why? Google don’t pay enough tax.”
Mr Cameron announced in July that people should be confronted with a pop-up warning if they put in phrases like “child porn” into a search engine, but was immediately criticised by experts who said it was impractical and would not stop abusers sharing images. The companies are due to report back in October.
“There’s a fundamental lack of understanding about the people who commit these offences,” said Mr Gamble.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “Child sexual abuse is a sickening crime that we are determined to eradicate both on and offline, and encouraging the industry to play its part is just one route to tackling this issue.”