The head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Jim Gamble, has tendered his resignation to the Home Office ahead of the taskforce being merged into the new National Crime Agency.
Gamble's decision to resign comes in the light of the government's plans to form an FBI-style crime fighting unit, known as the National Crime Agency (NCA). Established in 2006, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) is currently under the jurisdiction of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca). However, in July, home secretary Theresa May announced plans to merge Soca, including CEOP, into the newly formed crime agency, a decision opposed by Gamble.
"The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre does not feel that it is in the best interests of children and young people for CEOP to be assimilated into the National Crime Agency," said a spokeswoman for CEOP in a statement on Monday. "This direction of travel does not seem to have changed and CEOP's CEO, Jim Gamble, has therefore today offered his resignation to the home secretary with a four-month notice period."
Commenting on the decision, May said in a statement on Monday that she had been notified of Gamble's resignation. "As chief executive, Jim Gamble has done a great job at CEOP and made a huge contribution to protecting children," she said. "I wish him all the best for the future and arrangements for his successor will be outlined in due course."
May maintained that the government recognises the importance of child protection and wants to build upon the work of CEOP, "but does not necessarily feel this is best done by creating a new quango".
In an interview with the BBC, councillor Malcolm King, a former member of the CEOP advisory board, said there seemed to have been "a campaign in the Home Office for a long time now to make CEOP as ineffective as possible".
"All the evidence says that it should be a separate agency, that it doesn't fit in with a huge conglomerate of crime agencies," he said. "This is not another quango. This does something more important than anywhere else; it's not like burglary, it is unimaginable evil that is happening."
During the annual 2009-10 CEOP review, May said the organisation was "a centre of excellence in protecting children online that the UK can be proud of... CEOP proves that we all benefit from an approach that is inclusive, partnership driven and which brings authority whenever and wherever it is needed".
On Tuesday a Soca spokesman said only that "Jim Gamble has made a tremendous contribution to CEOP and we wish him well".
In July, CEOP spearheaded a campaign to improve the security of children using Facebook by introducing an app that can be added to a user's page and functions as a panic button that children and teenagers can use to report inappropriate behaviour or suspected online grooming, as well as providing access to safety information.
CEOP statistics indicate that, since 2006, the organisation has been responsible for safeguarding a total of 624 children and breaking up 262 sex offender networks, which includes more than 1,100 individual arrests.