Surge in online child abuse image crimes sees Met Police squad double in size

Britain’s largest police force has more than doubled the number of officers who deal with online images of child abuse amid a 130% rise in the crime since 2016.

The Metropolitan Police online child sexual exploitation and abuse unit has gone from 90 officers to 208, and will have 12 new teams based around London.

A report by watchdog Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary last year found that the force was being “overwhelmed” by the sheer volume of cases, something highlighted as a national problem.

Since 2016, the number of offences of making, sharing or possessing indecent images of children recorded by the Met has risen by 130%.

Officers dealt with an average of 182 offences per month in 2019, compared with 79 in 2016.

Detective Superintendent Zena Marshall, who leads the unit, said: “Like most forces across the country, we’ve seen a huge increase in offending in this area so we’ve set up 12 new teams in all of the basic command units across London, which will be dedicated teams, specifically dealing with these type of offences.

“We’ve seen a 130% increase in this offending type since 2016, which is a huge increase.

“We’ve had about 2,200 allegations in the last year and we’ve traced 22 victims from the images that we’ve seized.

“Real children that have been victims of abuse.”

The teams carry out raids, seizing around 10 devices in an average case, as well as analysing the indecent images found and trying to trace the victims.

Anywhere between a handful to millions of the obscene images of children under 18 can be discovered, with victims ranging from babies up to the age of 17.

Images are shared on the open web, including on mainstream social media sites, as well as the dark web.

Offenders looking for help are encouraged to contact a confidential helpline run by charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.

Speaking as journalists were allowed in to the Met unit’s headquarters for the first time, Mrs Marshall said: “It is illegal to view, share, download, upload indecent images of children.

“If you’re doing it, we will find out about it, expect a knock on the door in the future.

“If you need help around this offending type, we’re promoting the Stop It Now helpline, which is confidential.

“Behind every single one of these pictures or videos is a real child who is being sexually abused.

“Don’t minimise this, this is what’s happening to the child.

“Every time it’s re-viewed, re-shared that abuse goes on for that victim.”

The helpline also offers support to offenders’ loved ones.

“This is obviously absolutely devastating for families when someone has been arrested,” Mrs Marshall said.

“Most of the time they don’t know that this offending has been going on, they won’t know how to help them.

“The impact on the family and the individual who has been arrested is absolutely huge.

“That’s why we’re promoting the Stop It Now helpline, so if you’re concerned about a loved one who is accessing indecent images of children, or you yourself are concerned about your offending behaviour, you can call the hotline and get some support and help.

“That is confidential.”

The Stop It Now helpline is on 0808 1000 900.