Statement on Project Spade investigation
As Police and Crime Commissioner, my approach is governed by several broad principles. Firstly, I believe that our police officers must have a degree of discretion, within the law, to act in a manner designed to maximise the chances of preventing a person from offending again. Secondly, Essex Police must act at all times to reduce harm, concentrating first on reducing or preventing the most serious harm to victims.
We do not live in a time of infinite police resources, so informed, rational, choices to prioritise the prevention and investigation of the most serious harm are inevitable. This was thrown into stark light by the comments that Keith Bristow, the director general of the National Crime Agency, was widely reported as making on October 20, 2014:
‘I don’t think I can be more candid than say, if there are 50,000 people involved in this particularly horrible type of criminality, I don’t believe that all 50,000 will end up in the criminal justice system being brought to justice. Our responsibility is to focus on the greatest risk and tackle those people.”
Mr Bristow continued: “But the reality is everyone who accesses an indecent image of a child, the idea that every single one of them is going to go into the criminal justice process, is not realistic. As abhorrent as even the lower risk part of this is, and it’s still abhorrent and it’s still horrible, particularly when seen alongside other things like acquisitive crime, we’re going to have to start thinking differently about not just how we pursue these people but how we prevent people perpetrating this particular form of horribleness.’
A national debate is now taking place about the prosecution of people accessing indecent imagery or imagery of child abuse. Here in Essex, that debate is being seen partly through the perspective of Project Spade and the investigation into Martin Goldberg, the former Deputy Head Teacher of Thorpe Hall School.
Essex Police issued a full statement about that investigation here.
It includes the following passages: “Details on purchases traced to UK residents were sent by Canadian Police to the UK’s Child Exploitation On-line Protection (CEOP) centre in July 2012.
“On 26th November 2013, Essex Police received intelligence packages on 35 people, including Mr Goldberg. The information did not identify any of these individuals as high risk.
“On 3rd September 2014, Mr Goldberg’s case was allocated to an experienced POLIT officer for investigation. An employment vetting check was undertaken and on 9th September this provided information which indicated he was a teacher.
“That day officers made an application to the magistrate’s court for a search warrant but this was declined. This may have been because the only evidence available was the purchase of one illegal video made in 2005, but this has yet to be confirmed. Consequently, on the same day, officers visited Mr Goldberg at his home to request access to his computer equipment. He declined and it was decided that there were no grounds to arrest him.”
Once Essex Police investigated the purchase of the illegal video from Canada, further offending behaviour was revealed as follows:
– 1,468 images (both legal and illegal) that appear to have been created by Mr Goldberg
– Of these there were 465 images depicting nudity that appear to have been taken or recorded at Southend Leisure and Tennis Centre swimming pool changing rooms
– 38 images depicting nudity that appear to have been taken at other, yet to be identified, locations
– 75 depicting nudity that appear to have been taken or recorded by Mr Goldberg at Thorpe Hall School boys’ changing rooms
In the Essex Police statement, ACC Maurice Mason makes it clear that: “An immediate change is that officers carrying out intelligence will now conduct an additional employment vetting check at the front end of the process in order that occupation can be properly determined on initial receipt of a referral.”
In other words, when Essex Police receives intelligence “packages” suggesting that an individual has been purchasing or downloading indecent imagery or imagery of child abuse, then checks on the occupation of that person will be immediately undertaken so that the person’s potential access to children in the workplace can be determined.
Essex Police has advised me that of the 35 Project Spade intelligence “packages” that were sent by CEOP to Essex Police in November 2013, in 14 cases no indecent material was identified. Of the 21 “packages” where indecent material was identified, all have been subject to police action. 16 search warrants were obtained and executed, all of which resulted in items such as computers and data storage devices being seized and examined. Earlier this year, two men were charged with offences relating to indecent images of children. One further case has been subject to No Further Action, and the other 18 cases are still being investigated.
The independent police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, is conducting or considering conducting a number of investigations into the handling to the Project Spade material by police forces, including the actions of both CEOP / NCA and Essex Police. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt those investigations.
In my judgement, it is important that Essex Police continues to prioritise the investigation of the most serious harm, to protect victims and prevent further harm from occurring. It is also important that all intelligence suggesting that a person has accessed indecent imagery or imagery of child abuse is investigated. Firstly, the children in those images are themselves victims. And secondly, an investigation may reveal that the purchase of such material is part of a wider pattern of offending behaviour, as in the Goldberg case where he was creating indecent material of boys.
We must continue to place the protection of victims and the reduction of harm at the centre of the actions of our police forces.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex