The unwitting former partner of a paedophile is planning legal action after a police force said it was powerless to retain or destroy the abuser’s laptop which contains photographs of his young victims wearing swimwear and leotards.
The abuser, a church-going professional in his 50s, has requested the return from police of his computer and phone which are understood to contain family photographs taken during the eight years that he was in a relationship with the victims’ mother.
The children are said to be highly distressed at the prospect of the images being returned to their stepfather, who is currently serving a nine-year jail term after being convicted last year.
Police said yesterday that the devices do not contain any indecent images and they have no grounds not to hand them back. But the family says that their return would be a breach of their right not to be subjected to “inhuman or degrading treatment” under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act.
The children have been traumatised by the attacks and will not sleep alone in their beds, said civil rights group Liberty, which has taken on the case. The older girl has a history of self-harming. “I feel like I don’t want to live any more,” she said in a witness impact statement to the court.
The victims’ mother said: “I am appalled that the man who abused my child can ask the police to hand over our family photos for him to keep for the rest of his life. My daughters struggle every day with the devastating consequences of his abuse and this will only make them feel more humiliated and degraded. Why should we continue to be traumatised further?”
Liberty said that it was the first such case it was aware of, but believes there could be many more as child sex abuse is most common within the family.
Police said the equipment was seized but not used at court as it contained no indecent images or other evidence of criminality. “In such cases, the law is very clear that the police have no option but to return the equipment to its owner in its original condition,” it said.
A police spokesman said “We sympathise with the personal reasons for the request being made and recognise we are in a difficult position that may seem contrary to public opinion. However, as the police, we must operate impartially within the law as it stands.”
The force has not yet returned the items pending further legal advice and attempts to reach a compromise.