The crisis around the future of the government's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) deepened today as it emerged that three more senior managers are to quit following the resignation yesterday of its chief executive.
A spokesman for the agency, which leads the government's efforts to combat internet child abuse, confirmed that the three senior figures were preparing to hand in their resignations as a result of an upheaval in the way Ceop will function. He declined to name the officials but said their departure would have a significant impact on the 120-strong unit.
The news comes after Jim Gamble, the chief executive, resigned following a row with Theresa May, the home secretary, about plans to merge Ceop with the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and the UK Border Agency in a new National Crime Agency from 2013. He warned the move would undermine attempts to keep children safe from paedophiles and other abusers on the internet.
Gamble remained silent today but his stand was backed by allies, including the shadow home secretary, Alan Johnson, who warned the decision "will harm child safety networks".
"The Home Office's lack of consultation has led to the resignation of Mr Gamble who is highly respected within and outside of the organisation he served so well," said Johnson. "His expertise will be badly missed. To protect our children we need this expertise and Ceop have provided that beyond doubt. I could see as home secretary the potential for them to do so much more and it is very difficult to come to any other conclusion than the government should make them independent."
Since 2006 Ceop claims to have disrupted or dismantled 262 sex-offender networks, and it says inquiries by its online investigators have led to more than 1,000 arrests. Earlier this year May described Ceop, which has an annual budget of £11m, as "vital" and "a centre of excellence in protecting children online that the UK can be proud of". Labour had proposed to make Ceop a non-departmental public body, but May said last night the coalition government did not want to create another "quango".
Child protection experts are worried that combining Ceop with what the Home Office has described as "a powerful new body of operational crimefighters" means its focus on victims will be lost. It claims to have initiated the training of 6 million children in online safety through a programme disseminated through teachers, youth workers and schools. Ceop officials also believe they will lose millions of pounds a year in non-governmental funding from organisations such as Visa and Microsoft if it becomes part of the NCA.
"We cannot begin to describe how disgusted we are with our own government for betraying him and for betraying all of our children," said Shy Keenan, who works at Phoenix Chief Advocates, representing victims of paedophilia alongside Sara Payne, mother of the murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne. "This cannot be allowed to happen, we must stand up and fight, we must do what is right for the protection of our children against the crimes of paedophiles. You cannot approach child protection with a 'crime only' police unit. We need a pro-active child protection centre, not just a reactive police approach."
The Association of Chief Police Officers, of which Gamble is the lead on child protection, also protested against May's decision. "Acpo continues in firm support of Ceop operating as a stand-alone agency," said Warwickshire's chief constable, Keith Bristow. "If the government chooses not to support this option, then Acpo would seek to be consulted on whatever new governance arrangements are put in place."
In a submission to the Home Office consultation on the NCA earlier this year, Acpo warned of a "real risk that the advances that Ceop has made, particularly with regard to wider child protection partnerships, will be compromised".
Peter Saunders, from the National Association for People Abused in Childhood charity, said Ceop could have performed better. "I can only say it's a loss to child protection that Jim Gamble has resigned," he said. "But there has been an enormous amount of money spent on Ceop that would have been better spent elsewhere."
Gamble developed a reputation for having a confrontational style and clashed repeatedly with Facebook over his desire for it to include online safety buttons on its web pages. guardian
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A comment from the web.
The only people I hear sobbing over Reverend Gamble's departure are the self-same advocacy groups who have made such a commercial killing 'partnering' with his congregation at CEOP over the past few years. As usual, they employ highly emotive and wilfully misleading terminology to describe the Reverend as nothing less than a saint. But I guess it's kind hard to wave goodbye to the goose that laid quite so many golden eggs. Times were so good back in the good old days at the height of the Paedogeddon, after all... it was the gift that just kept giving.
The Operation Ore class action comes to court next month (finally). Big Jim is likely to feature prominently as it was he who led the entire fiasco from the start. That he should fall on his sword just about now is...well, let's just say it's 'interesting'. He does appear to have rather a lot of rather awkward questions to answer.
For a fledgling CEOP, Gamble as CEO (it really is a commercial outfit, albeit one which also enjoys huge public handouts) was a star performer - his well-rehearsed patter was so very effective at dazzling the media with endlessly sensational soundbites - not one of which he was ever required to explain or to prove. The Reverend could say what he wanted, claim what he wanted, and threaten whomever he wished - all with impunity. The media (El Reg excepted, of course) rarely if ever took him to task for his increasingly hysterical utterances. With him, it was all about perception - and keeping the moral crisis high on the public agenda was an effective business plan during the cosy NuLabour years of huge (£multi-million) public handouts. How things change.
No doubt at some future date he'll receive his gong for 'services to child protection' or some such. Quite where that leaves the hundreds who's lives were systematically ruined by CEOP's repeated witchunting over the years is anyone's guess, but I doubt they'll be applauding from the sidelines. The fact that Theresa May has not seen fit to reject his offer of resignation speaks volumes - I'll allow you to draw your own conclusions. When the only people arguing for his retention are those bottom feeders who - in these difficult financial times - happen to have a vested interest in his being at the head of CEOP, I think the picture's fairly clear for all.
His legacy, such as it is, makes for pretty grim reading. Possibly the most offensive of them (and there really are so very many of them) is his championing of the 'cartoon pr0n' laws which have now become statute in England & Wales. It was CEOP who crowded round the Parliamentary consultation leading up to the law, urging Ministers to not only introduce this wretched law, but to attach fiercely punitive punishments to it - even going so far as to suggest (in all seriousness) that courts should treat 'cartoon pr0n' with the same level of severity as that of real, actual photographic CP. Just how delusional does one have to become to advocate such madness? The sky was the limit for Big Jim - who could stop him?
The Coalition, it seems. Bravo.
~ ~ ~I found the Guardian story at the same place that I found the comment. More here.