UK expert calls for entrapment of paedophiles

Criminal experts call for a more proactive approach in trapping Net predators

A senior partner at the UK's largest criminal law firm says British law needs revising if Internet paedophiles like Patrick Green are to be caught before they have the chance to assault children.

Franklin Sinclair, senior partner at Tuckers Solicitors, says Britain should learn from America and introduce legislation allowing the entrapment of paedophiles operating online. The UK's Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 currently prevents police officers in Britain from covertly trapping paedophiles in chatrooms, arresting them on the grounds of criminal intent before a crime is committed.

Sinclair said "we are in favour of strict guidelines to regulate covert police surveillance operations at all stages: that is prior to the suspect entering the chatroom, and prior to the online conversation, so that the evidence is a complete picture of what took place". He argued the police should be entitled to pursue a predator as soon as a suspected advance has been detected online.

In America, federal law enables FBI agents to enter chatrooms posing as children in order to entrap paedophiles before a child is sexually assaulted. Criminal experts are in agreement that US entrapment law has a high level of success, with two Internet paedophile cases a week going to court. "If US entrapment law has been so successful in a country where freedom of speech and civil liberties are so carefully guarded, the UK has to examine why current legislation prevents a proactive approach," argued Nigel Williams, director of children's charity Childnet International.

David Kerr, chief executive at the Internet Watch Foundation argued "the court's attitude towards entrapment ties the hands of the police to do anything at all. Covert operations are the only way forward -- the police need to intercept paedophiles in the chatrooms before a crime is committed."

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the National Crime Intelligence Squad (NCIS) have recommended the introduction of a specialised Internet Crime Unit that would deal specifically with net paedophiles. The proposal failed to receive any funding under the recent budget review.

Childnet International is calling for the Home Office to review the Indecency with Children Act (1960) that states "conspiracy, enticement or the attempt to commit gross indecency with a child under 14" is a criminal offence. Williams questions whether UK law is sufficient to deal with those who show intent to try and contact a child online, irrespective of whether they commit a crime offline.

George Gardner, partner at London law firm Tarlo Lyons, is anxious that a balance is found between individual privacy rights and the English principle of innocent until proven guilty. He argued "most of us would not rob a bank, but if we found £50 on the street, would we hand it in to the police? Entrapment could encourage people to cross a line that they wouldn't do if left to their own devices".

Yaman Akdeniz, director of Cyber Rights and Cyber Liberties is however less critical of the UK approach towards catching Internet paedophiles. "When you look at UK statistics, there have been a considerable number of prosecutions since 1994 without entrapment tactics." Akdeniz claims there have been 500 convictions made against British paedophiles in the last two years.

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