In this gripping new documentary series, ITV has gained exclusive access to the Scotland Yard’s Paedophile Unit as they go undercover on the internet to catch men who want to groom children for sex.
Over the course of 18 months, presenter Mark Williams-Thomas shadows the detectives as they go into chat rooms posing as teenage girls and investigate the startling number of paedophiles trawling for images and sex on the internet. The programme reveals the disturbing exchanges and tricks that the men – many of whom are married, have their own children and work in respectable jobs – use to entice children to show nude pictures of themselves and meet up for sex.
In a television first, the cameras follow undercover officers as they capture and arrest men that believe they are about to meet 13- and 14-year-old girls for sex. Footage shows their reactions and excuses once they realise they’ve been rumbled and the girls do not exist but are actually undercover detectives.
The programme shows the arrests through to the police interviews in the custody suites and follows the cases to their resolution in the courts. And Williams-Thomas, a former detective and now a child protection expert, reveals what every parent should know to protect their sons and daughters.
No one knows exactly how many paedophiles are using the internet – but experts believe that one in five children have met a stranger encountered online.
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Stevens, the head of Scotland Yard’s Paedophile Unit in London, says: “In terms of child abuse on the internet, the problem is huge, it’s significant, not just for policing in London but across the UK and across the world – the fact is if I had three times the amount of staff tackling child abuse on the internet I would still be struggling to cope with the demand. If you go back to five, ten years ago in relation to the figures, the numbers of child abuse images that we were seizing we’d be talking about thousands, today we’re talking very much in the millions.”
In 2005, to help tackle the problem, officers in the unit began going online posing as children.
Williams-Thomas meets covert internet investigator John Taylor, who talks to paedophiles online, day in and day out, posing as a teenage girls like 13-year-old Jessie.
The cameras follow Taylor as he begins an investigation on Andrew Lintern in summer of 2008, who would make the headlines months later when he was convicted of having almost 20,000 indecent images of children on his computer and of abusing a 17-month-old baby.
The police first discovered Lintern, when he approached “Jessie” in a chat room posing as a nine-year-old girl. “The girl” had asked Jessie:
‘Have u tried anything at all with someone else?
He then asked: ‘Would u meet someone from online?’
Lintern, still pretending to be a 9-year-old girl, then asked Jessie if she would like to meet a man called Andy.
‘He’ll teach u everything if u want him to lol.’
He then asked: ‘Would u have sex with him?’
Two weeks later Lintern came online as Andy, pretending to be a friend of the fictional nine-year-old girl.
He asked Jessie: ‘Do you look at porn?’
‘It is another good way to learn things’
He then said he wanted to meet Jessie for sex
He said: ‘I can use a condom anyway,’ and added, ‘It shouldn’t hurt.’
The police investigation reveals that Lintern is in his fifties, married, a scientist and working in IT. Police will later discover that he is even an Oxford graduate.
The team believes that Lintern is a sophisticated groomer and Jessie (aka John Taylor) agrees to the meeting. The paedophile unit, followed by ITV’s cameras, set up a sting operation to arrest Lintern as he travels to a London park for his encounter with “Jessie.”
In dramatic footage, Lintern is surrounded by police and arrested. He admits to being there to meet a girl called “Jessie.” The detectives find condoms in his pocket. The cameras follow as Lintern is checked into the custody area at the police station, searched and then interviewed. He confesses to officers that they will find indecent images of children when they examine his computer.
As the programme continues, the police discover 20,000 indecent images, including videoclips of a 17-month-old baby being abused. Lintern confesses to abusing the baby himself. Thirty-one charges are brought against him and he is sentenced indefinitely and must serve 3.5 years before being considered for parole. He will be on the sexual offenders register for life.
The programme follows a number of other cases, including that of Dean Hardy. DS Nick Duffield is in charge of the team working on the operation. They’ve received information from Europol, the European law enforcement agency, and arrested Hardy for downloading child porn from the internet.
But following a search of his home – they are convinced he has actually abused children. A memory stick from Hardy’s camera shows photographs of a man abusing a young Asian girl and they believe the freckly hands in the pictures belong to Hardy.
Duffield explains: “We were able to establish fairly quickly that pictures look like they were being taken by the offender so he was photographing himself while he was abusing this young girl…all you could see in the photograph was the hands of the abuser so what we then did was when Hardy came back to us on bail we sought authority to photograph his hands. We then took that photograph with the photograph from the image that we recovered and went to seek out an expert in relation to hand identification.”
But will that be enough evidence to secure a prosecution?
Months later, Duffield has good news. Hardy has admitted abusing children in court when presented with the weight of evidence against him and he is also convicted on charges of taking and possessing indecent images. He is sentenced to six years imprisonment and put on the sex offenders register for life.
As Williams –Thomas follows the paedophile unit on a number of other arrests and reads the graphic sexual exchanges made over the internet, he wonders how this kind of work affects the officers.
He asks Dave Manning, who joined the unit two years ago after working on Operation Trident, which focuses on black on black crime in London.
“Obviously, I was aware of the existence of paedophiles, but I had no idea that there were so many and that they, you know, some of the levels of depravity are just really quite shocking, you know, very, very shocking indeed and it’s… it’s almost impossible to get one’s head around, you know, what would actually make anybody do this. Why would they want to do it and what sort of pleasure do they get out of it?”
“About six weeks ago I saw a clip of a paedophile movie if you like, indecent – the rape of a small baby and it really, you know I felt sick, absolutely physically sick about it. You know, I think anyone else would… looking at that would view it in exactly the same way – they’re absolutely horrific images at times that we have to deal with.”
Williams-Thomas wonders if they ever feel frustrated and wonder if they could do more?
Manning replies: “Yes I think we could. You know, if I was given twice the number of officers, I could do twice the amount of work. You know, there’s no shortage of work out there at all, believe me. The vast majority of our work is around proactivity, you know, we actually go looking, but we can only deal with so much with the officers that we’ve got. I reach a point of saturation where, you know, I mean as we sit here now the team have got about 30 … 31 people awaiting trial and about 50 people on bail, so just for 15 officers, you know, it’s an awful lot of work to manage and to deal with all the issues that that raises.”
Tuesday, 22 September 2009, 10:35PM – 11:35PM