Home Office commits gaffe over entrapment

Judge calls for changes in law to aid in fight against paedophiles

A controversial case which used entrapment procedures to catch a paedophile operating on the Internet has been used by the Home Office to defend the fact that under UK law entrapment procedures are outlawed.

This somewhat bizarre situation highlights differences between UK and US law on the issue of online entrapment and also raises the question of how well the Home Office knows its own legal history.

In a letter to ZDNet News UK last week, the Home Office asserted that an Internet test case of May 2000 illustrated that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) was sufficient for prosecuting chatroom paedophiles. Child agencies have argued that the law needs updating to bring it in line with modern technology, particularly allowing police to use entrapment techniques that are already widely used in the US.

The Home Office is hailing the Lockley case as a "successful prosecution" using PACE but fails to mention that entrapment techniques were crucial to ensuring a successful outcome.

Ironically the judge in the case -- QC Peter Fingret -- slammed PACE as inadequate and demanded a change in the law after sentencing Kenneth Lockley at the Old Bailey. At the time Fingret said: "The law clearly does not deal with the type of conduct perpetrated by this defendant. It is time, in light of the pernicious influence of a large number of Web sites, that Parliament should consider dealing with this lacuna [gap] in the law."

Despite the embarrassing blunder, the Home Office maintains in its letter to ZDNet that it has no plans to employ entrapment in the UK: "With specific regard to PACE, we believe it can respond effectively to prevent these awful crimes as currently framed and there are no current plans to amend it," the letter reads.

British legal experts agree the Home Office is trying to draw an impossible line between covert tactics and entrapment. "It's not a black and white issue -- the Home Office is trying to draw a line in a grey area of policy," said Peter Wilson, partner at law firm Tarlo Lyons.

Nigel Williams, director of Childnet International argues that the Lockley sentencing is the only example of an Internet paedophile being caught before an offline crime was committed. "We've consistently been calling for a change in the law. In the Lockley case, it was only on a US tip-off that this case happened. We don't have a pro-active approach in the UK."

In the case 28-year-old Lockley contacted a paedophile Web site set up during a covert "sting" operation by US police saying he was "desperate" to contact girls as young as six. The FBI passed his details on to the paedophile unit at New Scotland Yard, who arrested him after Lockley paid undercover officers £200 for sex with a child.

In America, federal law enables FBI agents to enter chatrooms posing as children in order to identify and arrest paedophiles before any physical assault has taken place. In the UK however, PACE states that such methods make police "agents provocateurs" and evidence gathered in this way is inadmissible. Article 6 of the EU Convention on Human Rights also outlaws evidence gathered by entrapment.

US law has its own restrictions. While law officers there can pose as children online, they must prove the suspect initiated the encounter, to prevent police from effectively framing an innocent bystander.

Lockley was charged with attempted sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 and an attempted serious offence against a nine-year-old girl aged nine, which carries a life sentence. He was given an 18-month sentence, despite being the first person in Britain to be charged with incitement to procure a child for sex on the Internet.

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