Sheffield crime: Man arrested and devices seized in police probe into internet sex abuse.
and live on Freeview channel 276
Officers say the the arrest was made in the last week and the suspect has been bailed with 'strict conditions', with enquiries ongoing. The man who was arrested was suspected of sending sexual communications to a child.
It means in the last two weeks, the South Yorkshire Police 'Internet Sex Offences Team' has raided 10 properties, seized 33 devices and arrested nine people for a range of offences, of which two current Registered Sex Offenders were charged and remanded. As a result of the team’s activity, seven children were safeguarded, say officers.
Police revealed the latest arrests as they explained details of the work of the Internet Sex Offences Team, which has been described as operating in a quiet, calm and controlled world – well away from the glare of the public, much of their work unseen and unheard by the public of South Yorkshire.
Detective Inspector Lee Wilson, who leads the team, said: “Internet sex offenders largely operate in the shadows, hoping that the relative anonymity of the online sphere keeps them off the police’s radar as they engage in horrific crimes.
“The ISOT therefore, must also work below the radar to an extent, carrying out our work to identify and arrest these individuals quietly and without fanfare.
“As the digital world continues to expand, with access to the internet at pretty much everyone’s fingertips and new social media platforms being introduced, this is a growing area of criminality that carries a large amount of risk, as the victims are the most vulnerable members of our communities – children.”
It’s a complex and challenging role that carries a significant amount of responsibility given the nature of the crimes being investigated.
“The public understandably have strong feelings about those who commit sexual offences against children,” said DI Wilson. “These are very emotive crimes and can create a lot of tension locally, not only for the suspect but for their family too. In the vast majority of cases, offenders have managed to hide their criminality from their loved ones, meaning that when we knock at the door, we’re in possession of information that can tear a family apart.”
When an individual is arrested by the ISOT, their partner or family are given access to support organisations, including Talking Forward, which offers peer support.
DI Wilson continued: “The officers who work within ISOT are highly skilled, determined investigators committed to the protection of children. We have a robust, proactive, and targeted approach to disrupting these offenders and stopping their sexual criminality in its tracks, and in the process safeguard children from any further harm.
“ISOT officers work within this complicated environment day in, day out, and it is testament to their skill and persistence that offenders overwhelmingly enter guilty pleas at court to serious sexual crimes, given the irrefutable evidence put before them.”
Information about suspected internet sexual offences is passed to the team in a number of ways; sometimes it’s from another agency, another force, or as a direct report into South Yorkshire Police.
DI Wilson added: “The ISOT is good at what it does because of its exceptional research team, who are exposed to the raw, sometimes undeveloped information as it’s brought into the force. It’s their role to assess the report, understand the risk, and then they complete a detailed examination to build upon that initial intelligence.
“This background work is essential to helping us understand the type of individual we’re looking at and the risk they pose to children. This work happens very quickly, as we know we need to get that person into custody. It is important to highlight, however, that sometimes we can uncover far more sinister crimes once we have that person under arrest.”
Earlier this year, a man in his 30s – who cannot be identified for legal reasons – was jailed for 18 years, after an initial report of him being in possession of a prohibited image saw his devices seized. On those devices were hidden folders and files, showing him sexually abusing his own children.
“We often can’t know the extent of a person’s offending until their devices are forensically examined,” continued DI Wilson. “That particular case was harrowing, and it is thanks to the investigating officer’s tenacity that the full scale of that offender’s sick crimes was uncovered.
“The inspection of digital devices is an integral part of our investigations and for this, we work very closely with our Digital Forensic Unit (DFU). These are highly skilled technicians who examine computers, tablets, phones – whatever devices we seize – to recover and analyse digital evidence. This evidence is often crucial to our enquiries so the DFU’s work cannot be understated.”
A common misconception is that this type of criminality is confined to the mysterious ‘dark web’, when in reality social media platforms are prevalent. Stories of sex offenders caught after undercover police officers posed as children on social media have featured in popular media in recent years, and these cases also typically come into the ISOT.
One instance saw a man arrested in Barnsley after travelling from the south to meet who he thought was a 12-year-old girl, but in reality was an undercover officer. He had been communicating with the ‘girl’ on Snapchat and Instagram, with the conversation becoming highly sexualised. When he was arrested, he was in possession of items indicating his intention to commit serious sexual offences. He is now serving a nine-year prison sentence.
DI Wilson said: “The officers that work within the ISOT are not just police officers: some of us are parents, we’re sons, daughters, partners, neighbours… but the nature of our job means that we know what dangers are out there. Social media platforms and the internet in general can be great and is useful for many things, but the sad fact is that it can also be used by sex offenders to target and exploit children. It’s important that everyone has an understanding of the risks.
“If you’re a parent of a young person make sure you’re talking to your children about their online activity and social media, and how to stay safe online.”
ChildLine has published information on online safety on their website.