Nursery worker on child porn charges

Police meet with parents in bid to identify possible victims as Plymouth woman arrested after tip-off from another force

More than a hundred parents in Plymouth are being contacted by police to find out if their children were sexually abused at a nursery by a female employee who was yesterday charged with a series of sexual offences.

Vanessa George, 39, who worked at Little Ted's Child Day Care Unit in Laira, was charged with four counts of sexual assault and making and distributing indecent images of children.

She was arrested at her home in nearby Efford at about midnight on Monday, after Devon and Cornwall Police received a tip-off from another force. During the raid on her home, officers seized her mobile phone and computer equipment. A cursory search of the phone uncovered a "small number" of indecent images but officers said they feared her computer may hold "hundreds or even thousands" more. They uncovered a computer disc at the nursery which contained more than a dozen images of "a serious nature".

Ms George, who lives with her husband, Andrew, and their two teenage daughters, has worked at the nursery for at least two years. She is charged with two counts of sexual assault by penetration, two counts of sexual assault by touching, and three counts of making, possessing and distributing indecent images of children.

At a press conference yesterday, Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed that some of the images had definitely been taken inside the nursery but said it was "impossible to say" where all of them had originated.

Their investigation is focusing on the alleged exchange of material between Ms George and Colin Blanchard, 38, from Littleborough, near Rochdale.

Mr Blanchard appeared at Trafford magistrates' court on Tuesday charged with the possession and distribution of indecent images.

It is understood that police investigating Mr Blanchard contacted their colleagues in the Devon and Cornwall force at about 9pm on Monday, after discovering emails containing images of abuse allegedly sent by Ms George.

In some of the images, Ms George can also be seen wearing a T-shirt with the nursery's logo on it.

Police said they had struggled to identify the children in the pictures, many of which were shot in close-up, and admitted it may never be possible to correctly identify some of the victims.

Chief Superintendent Jim Webster, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said: "This investigation is fast-moving and now confirmation has been received of evidence leading to the charges today.

"It is a significant and disturbing situation, and the position is made even more difficult that identification of the children in the images is very difficult. There are many that contain the images of torsos.

"As we go through the painstaking task of identifying who may be concerned, we are focusing on communication with the families we believe are involved."

Russ Middleton, the head of the criminal investigation department at Devon and Cornwall Police, said: "It's safe to say we believe some of the images were taken in the nursery.

"At this time we have been unable to identify any images of individual children and it is right to say some images may never be identified. Our priority is to build up a close relationship with potential victims and focus on children contained within the images."

On Tuesday, police called a meeting in Plymouth during which they spoke to about 100 concerned parents and people associated with the nursery.

The director of children and young people's services at Plymouth City Council, Bronwyn Lacey, also addressed the gathering.

The nursery is responsible for the care of 60 babies and toddlers aged between one and five years, but children up to the age of 11 may also attend its breakfast and after-school clubs.

Parents arriving at the nursery with their children on Tuesday morning were handed letters telling them it had closed after the arrest of an employee. The nursery has yet to reopen.

Ms George remained in custody at Charles Cross police station in Plymouth yesterday.

She is due to appear at Plymouth magistrates' court this morning.

Residents of the street on which the nursery worker lived described her as a "nice neighbour" who was "never any trouble". They said they had been shocked to hear of the allegations against her.

"She always seemed lovely," one said. "She always says hello. I hope it is just a big mistake. The last thing we expected was for her to be involved with this."