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The importance of protecting children from harm

Speaking to the Echo about Project Spade and the investigation into Martin Goldberg, former Deputy Head teacher at Thorpe Hall school, Baroness Angela Smith suggested that I had called for a review of police action and that she did not support this as ‘we simply need to know what went wrong’.

I suspect that in reality there is little difference between Baroness Smith’s position and mine.  

On September 30, as details of the Goldberg case were placed in the public domain, I wrote:

“As Police and Crime Commissioner, I have asked Essex Police for a full briefing about this case.  I understand the original information from police in Toronto suggesting that Goldberg had purchased videos of naked boys several years ago was received by Essex Police in late November 2013.  The Police Online Investigation Team first visited Goldberg on September 9, 2014.  It is important that we understand why it took nine months for the force to act on this information. There may be valid reasons but we deserve an explanation.

“Essex Police has referred aspects of this case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and I expect the independent watchdog to investigate thoroughly and rigorously.  It would be wrong of me to pre-empt the findings of that investigation, but my initial judgement is that it is likely that something has gone badly wrong here, including possibly in the original assessment and review by CEOP

“I have also asked Essex Police urgently to review any information or intelligence they possess, such as the material from police in Toronto, about potential paedophile activity in our county and the processes for risk assessment reports of such activity.  It is essential that our communities have confidence that Essex Police is doing everything in its power to investigate intelligence or information about paedophiles in a rapid and thorough fashion.”

I can now provide an update and more detail.  On learning of Goldberg’s activities, I asked Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh for an urgent explanation as to what had happened. The Chief Constable immediately commissioned an internal Essex Police review.  I supported this step, and this review into the handling of the Project Spade material and the Goldberg information in particular is the only review that I have called for.  We need to know what happened and why.

The review led to an immediate change in Essex Police policy.  As I wrote in my public statement of October 22:

“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.”

So, the Essex Police review was conducted promptly and led to an immediate change of practice to reduce the risk of a recurrence of what had happened with Goldberg. 

It is often the case that investigations by the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, can take many months or even years, to be completed.  My clear judgement is that in order to safeguard children in Essex, and bring perpetrators to justice, we could not wait for any IPCC investigation to report.  We needed to identify any key issues immediately, and Essex Police needed to act to address those matters and help protect children from harm as soon as possible. The force’s rapid action was important and has my full support.

With regard to Essex Police’s delay in vetting the occupation of Goldberg, it is believed that what went wrong was a misinterpretation of an ambiguous phrase used by CEOP in their assessment of the Project Spade packages as they passed the material over. However, that detail is rightly being looked at by the IPCC, and it would be wrong of me to pre-empt any investigation.

There is very little police work that is as important as the protection of children from harm.  We must continue to place the protection of victims and the investigation of those who cause harm at the centre of our actions.

Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex


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01245 291600

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