Bedfordshire Police has a dedicated Internet Child Abuse Investigation Team (ICAIT), which is responsible for investigating online child sexual abuse and prosecuting adults who make, possess and distribute indecent images of children.
The team currently consists of eight Investigation Officers, three Detective Constables, two Detective Sergeants and a Detective Inspector, along with a Victim Identification Officer.
During 2019, the team conducted 320 investigations, which resulted in more than 35 years’ total jail time for a number of offenders and around 700 devices being seized for examination.
Nicky Owen has worked as an Investigation Officer within ICAIT for five years and has found that despite the horrific nature of the material she has to investigate, she gets immense job satisfaction in knowing that she is responsible for locking these offenders away.
She said: “Working in this area isn’t for the faint-hearted and some of the images and videos I have come across in my time working in ICAIT, I can never un-see and that can be quite hard to deal with.
“We are an incredibly busy team as we receive information from different sources alerting us that a device linked to an IP address or social media page has recently been the subject of a number of possible illegal uploads or downloads. This marks the start of our investigation into developing information on the person we think is the offender.
“We tend to carry out at least two to three search warrants each week, usually early morning so we are guaranteed to find that person at home and to cause as little disruption as possible.
“Of course this has a devastating effect on the family as I feel like our arrival and the arrest of their family member blows their whole world apart.
“It is also difficult when there are children living at the address and a lot of time, if the suspect is released on bail, they will have to find alternative accommodation, rather than residing back in the family home. This can be extremely distressing for the children as they are unlikely to understand the situation.
“During the search, we seize any devices that may contain illegal material. These can include phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, USBs and disc drives, but also online chat forums so they can be searched for certain phrases and language to see who the suspect has been communicating with.
“The devices are then submitted for forensic examination before coming back to our team and we then manually grade the images and videos: Category A being the most serious and Category C is the least.
“This can be the most difficult part of the job and we never know what we are going to find, although more often than not, the same images do crop up time and time again. Grading the images and videos can take several hours as there are thousands to go through.
“One of the worst cases I have investigated recently was Asim Hussain, who was jailed for making and distributing indecent images of children in February 2019. We received information that he had been downloading indecent images and during the search warrant, we also uncovered a substantial amount of drugs and cash.
"He was jailed for six years for the drug offences and then received an additional 18 months for the indecent images offences after we found more than 50,000 images ranging from Category A to Category C.
"The case featured on 24 Hours in Police Custody and although the public’s reaction was extremely positive towards our work, it also highlighted how disappointing the sentences can be for this type of offence.
“I often get asked how I deal with some of the things I have to see, and we do receive support from the force, but I have my partner and great friends around me who are vital in helping me switch off when I’m not at work. I’m also lucky to work with a fantastic team – we support each other and have a similar sense of humour, which helps get us through some of the darker jobs.
“Viewing and possessing indecent images of children is by no means a victimless crime. It causes and propagates real harm to the children concerned, as they are abused and exploited in such a vile and appalling way. Unfortunately behind closed doors, some people have dark secrets they are determined to hide, but I am proud that my role within Bedfordshire Police helps to put these perpetrators behind bars before they inflict abuse on anyone else.”
Parents can visit the Parents Protect website, which is run by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, for lots of useful resources to help prevent online child sexual abuse. It also contains a list of organisations and resources focusing on keeping children safe in the digital world.
The NSPCC Share Aware website also contains advice and tips about how children can keep themselves safe online.
To report concerns around child sexual abuse call the police on 101.