Leaders: Tackling online perversion is a crucial challenge

Tackling paedophiles who use the internet and social media to groom children is the first major campaign of Chief Constable Phil Gormley's leadership of Police Scotland. Picture: TSPL
Tackling paedophiles who use the internet and social media to groom children is the first major campaign of Chief Constable Phil Gormley's leadership of Police Scotland. Picture: TSPL
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Police Scotland’s campaign on child sexual exploitation is welcome but it will require a focused strategy if it is to succeed

The drive to tackle paedophiles who use the internet and social media to groom children represents the first major campaign of Chief Constable Phil Gormley’s leadership of Police Scotland.

It is a high-profile idea that could, and perhaps should, have been rolled out long before now, given the prevalence of the crime. Only yesterday, Gordon Crossan, the new president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, warned the force was struggling to cope with levels of cybercrime.

The emergence of the initiative is therefore timely, and the increased awareness it will generate is to be welcomed. Publicity is the primary goal of any campaign and if helps in encouraging just one more victim to have the confidence to come forward, then it will have been worthwhile.

Mr Gormley will have been encouraged by Operation Latisse, which ran for just five weeks earlier this summer, yet identified more than 500 children as potential victims of online sexual abuse. Figures such as those are distressing evidence of the need for concerted action.

But a campaign as significant as this one raises other pertinent questions, chief among them being how do we actually tackle such heinous crimes?

The nature of such incidents means that, in the majority of cases, the policing approach will be reactive, not proactive. Turning that on its head so that would-be offenders can be identified before they have an opportunity to ruin young lives is a considerable challenge, one that is inseparable from the wider issues faced by Scotland’s national force.

It has at its disposal finite resources and faces significant political pressures, but it is an open secret that Mr Gormley regards online offences as a priority of his tenure. When he was appointed to the role, he made specific mention of three areas of crime – organised criminals, extremism, and cybercrime. That ought to give a clear indication of the future direction of travel. Whether Police Scotland has the staff and capability to adequately pursue it is another matter altogether.

It will also exert increased pressure on the force’s ability to tackle low-level crime. Consequently, the public must also be made to understand that the shifting perspectives of policing will have a knock on effect. If crime is taking place in the digital realm, the clamour for increased numbers officers on the streets cannot be easily met.

Child sexual exploitation and other online crime is a major issue for Police Scotland and yesterday’s announcement will rightly invite scrutiny of the force’s ability to tackle them.

That is why it is not only the campaign itself that is important, but the strategy which underpins it. Online crime exploits fast-moving technology and it is essential that the force is at the vanguard of developments. It may require a multi-agency co-operation involving not just other forces around the UK, but international agencies. Mr Gormley has doubtless considered such matters, but it is crucial he gets Police Scotland’s approach right if this campaign is to be judged a success.

Calais wall appears a crude gesture

If the idea of a vast physical barrier at Calais to counter migrant incursions seems like a crude idea, the language used to announce it yesterday was no more refined.

In the words of immigration minister,

Robert Goodwill, plans are in place to build a “big new wall” very soon. A structure some 13 feet high, it will run for a kilometre along both sides of the main road to Calais port.

The case for such a wall acting as an effective preventative step has not been satisfactorily made. It is tempting to side with those who regard it not as a security measure, but a political gesture.

On this side of the Atlantic, there been condemnation of the proposal by US Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, to erect a vast wall to delineate the country’s border with Mexico. One must wonder if there is a similar reaction to these plans in the US.

The timing of the initiative, so soon after the Brexit vote, lends the scheme a certain irony. The Home Office has intimated that work on the wall will begin soon, yet the debate over whether a border should be sited at Calais or Dover continues to rage.

Those who have closely followed the saddening events in Calais over recent years know that migrants encounter few significant problems with fences erected to curb their travel. Quite why that situation should change with a wall seems unclear. Such mechanisms can and will always be exploited and people may well die as a result.

With the suggestions the construction of the barrier will cost up to £2 million, it seems an imprudent use of resources conceived in the absence of any considered idea as how to solve what is a desperate situation.