Net paedophile investigation breaks new ground

Covert tactics have been used for the first time to arrest and sentence a British Internet paedophile

A British police officer has become the first to covertly catch an Internet paedophile using existing UK legislation. The groundbreaking case questions the need for new "grooming" laws as proposed by the Home Office.

Detective inspector Darren Brookes at the West Midlands paedophile unit used covert tactics to investigate a public complaint about an Internet paedophile. He posed as a fictitious teenager within an Internet chatroom to gather evidence on the suspect's sexually explicit dialogue.

"Current legislation allows us to do certain acts that other police departments would normally not get involved in," said Brookes. "We didn't look purely to entrap -- we didn't want to cause a person to commit a crime that they wouldn't normally do. We have enough crime without doing that."

Robert Coleshill, 53, was jailed for six months at Birmingham Crown Court on Friday. A groundbreaking two-year Internet ban was also imposed, after he pleaded guilty to four charges of gross indecency and a further six counts of being in possession of indecent images of children.

The prohibition of entrapment within UK law has often made it difficult for police officers to catch paedophiles operating in Internet chatrooms. Section 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act states that such methods make police "agent provocateurs" and evidence gathered in this way is inadmissible. Article 6 of the EU Convention on Human Rights also outlaws evidence gathered by entrapment.

But Brookes' successful conviction proves that it is possible to "stretch" existing legislation to arrest a Net predator before a sexual offence is committed offline. The team at West Midlands paedophile unit used inchoate offences (which include criminal attempts and conspiracy) to justify its undercover operation. "We decided how we would go online, and we stretched the definitions (of inchoate offences) to get a court ruling on it," said Brookes. "Such legislation is rarely used, but coupled with existing legislation, it was enough to prove substantive crimes against our officer."

Coleshill was sentenced under the Criminal Attempts Act, for attempting to take part in an act of gross indecency. Digital evidence was presented of the defendant committing a sexual act in front of a Web cam.

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