This is our truth, tell us yours
In 1829 Sir Richard Mayne, one of the first Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police and a good answer in a pub quiz (because some people will always say Robert Peel, rather than Mayne and Rowan) wrote ‘The primary object of an efficient police is the prevention of crime: the next that of detection and punishment of offenders if crime is committed. To these ends all the efforts of police must be directed. The protection of life and property, the preservation of public tranquillity, and the absence of crime, will alone prove whether those efforts have been successful and whether the objects for which the police were appointed have been attained.’
This week Myles Bradbury went to prison for abusing a startling number of boys while practicing as a consultant haematologist. He deserved all he got.
The problem that the Bradbury case throws up is an old one – how do we best tackle the problem Richard Mayne identified, of preventing crime? Bradbury had previously been identified by police as a person of interest, to say the least, because he had purchased child porn (of teenage boys) online, using a credit card. The story of Operation Spade hasn’t been fully told yet, but it’s clear that there are concerns that it has not been British policing’s finest moment. Rather like Operation Ore, really.
According to the figures quoted by the Guardian, only one in three of the referrals made out of Operation Spade led to an ongoing investigation. Myles Bradbury and his ilk were, quite literally, needles in haystacks.
Now, if we adopt Einstein’s definition of madness as being doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results, what can we learn from Operation Spade and Operation Ore?
It’s arguable that both Ore and Spade have not prevented child abuse. They may have brought into the light offenders who would otherwise have escaped justice, but at what cost? Is it time to mention Alex Folkes?
What’s the alternative?
British police practice is inevitably tied up in the two themes espoused by Jim Gamble, the moral entrepeneur who led CEOP; Gamble says “Some people still think that it’s somehow different, that looking is not the same as doing, that it doesn’t cause the same harm and could be done by accident. That is simply not the case. People who look go on to do.”
Gamble’s response to the needle in a haystack problem with the output of cases like Ore and Spade is to throw more resources at the problem, yet, as the Met Police stats seem to show, even when they get genuine consumers of child porn (not the Alex Folkes’s of this world) the police find no more evidence of abuse, or indeed of repeated consumption of that sort of material. Pete Townsend has already been forgiven and we’ve all apparently forgotten his caution for consuming child porn, and no-one’s going to allege he went on to become an abuser.
We need some science, and some rigorous data , not the assertions of Jim Gamble, who acts like a politician, not a police officer. Over the weekend, we’re going to develop this theme, and suggest a scientific approach to the problem.