Ex-child protection chief warning over CEOP merger

The former head of the the UK's child protection agency has attacked plans to remove its independence.

Under a government shake-up, the stand-alone Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) Centre is being incorporated into a new national crime-fighting organisation.

Ceop's chief executive Jim Gamble, who quit in October after the change was announced, described it as a "mistake for child protection".

Mr Gamble told The Times: "I would rather resign now and highlight what I believe is a mistake for child protection than find myself resigning in two or three years' time because something had gone horribly wrong and we'd made serious errors.

"It's become less important to save kids than to save face.

"Ceop works because it is about child protection first and foremost, but I'm afraid it is being dragged back into the blue serge of policing.

"When I asked why that was happening I was met by ambiguities and rhetoric which I regard as nothing more than spin."

One of the centre's latest tasks is investigating the prevalence of street grooming gangs, a case highlighted by the conviction last week of two men who abused several girls.

Mohammed Liaqat, 28, and Abid Saddique, 27, were jailed at Nottingham Crown Court for raping and sexually abusing their victims, often after giving them alcohol or drugs.

Former home secretary Jack Straw sparked a backlash after claiming the case was evidence of a specific problem among young men in the UK's Pakistani community.

Ceop was set up in 2006 tasked with tracking online paedophiles and bringing them to court.

It is currently affiliated to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).

But under the Government's plans the agency will become part of a greater National Crime Agency in 2013.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "Child protection will always be an absolute priority for this government and we value the important work carried out by Ceop.

"We want to ensure that its vital role continues and flourishes.

"We are discussing with the new chief executive how Ceop could further develop and thrive if it were to form part of the new National Crime Agency."