LETTER:Prying and prejudice

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From Mr Stephen J. King

Sir: The plight of Julia Somerville [arrested over allegedly indecent photographs of her seven-year-old daughter] is unfortunately not unique. As the author of a research paper presented to the Home Office, The Law Society, and Scotland Yard on the "child porn" legislation (The Protection of Children Act 1978), I am aware of several cases in which the intervention of high-street photo-processing firms has led to police investigation, unwarranted publicity, and subsequent horrendous disruption of family life.

The problem with this law lies in its interpretation. There is no adequate interpretation of "indecent" photographs, and this leaves the door wide open for unjust activity by the authorities. Such photographs must effectively be prejudged as "indecent" by the arresting officer or his superior, before coming in front of a magistrate or jury. About 40 to 50 prosecutions for taking or distributing indecent photographs are made each year, according to Home Office statistics, and between one-quarter and one-half of these are brought as a result of complaints by processing laboratory staff. It should also be mentioned that, of these prosecutions made between 1991 and 1993, about one-third resulted in acquittals or proceedings being discontinued.

Can we assume that, whether Ms Somerville is eventually found to be innocent or guilty, her and her partner's names will be added to the computerised NCIS (National Criminal Intelligence Service) Paedophile Index because of this incident? Is it in the best interests of her daughter to be subjected to stressful interviews by police and/or social services? Also, do we assume that a child's body is inherently indecent, or should we continue to be able photographically to portray it in happy and innocent states, as well as in artistic ones? That is a lawful activity.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen King

London, SE24

4 November