By Patrick McPartlin
Following the resignation on Monday of chief executive Jim Gamble, a number of other members have also left their jobs at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) in protest at Home Office plans to merge the organisation with the National Crime Agency. In addition to campaigners, politicians and The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), parents and teachers have also voiced their concerns at the proposed merger, maintaining the opinion that Ceop would function more effectively as a standalone agency. There are growing worries amongst some campaigners that reducing Ceop’s independence would limit its impact.
Since its creation in 2006, Ceop has reportedly been responsible for cracking over 250 paedophile rings, and has contributed to over 1,000 arrests. In the past year, social networking sites such as MySpace have introduced ‘panic buttons,’ designed to report online abuse to Ceop. More recently, the rape and murder of teenager Ashleigh Hall by a convicted sex-offender posing as a teenage boy on Facebook was seen as pivotal in the negotiations with Ceop, leading to the Harvard-based site falling into line with its competitors in providing this link.
Campaign group The Phoenix Foundation, set up by Shy Keenan, Fiona Crook and Sara Payne, whose daughter Sarah was murdered by paedophile Roy Whiting ten years ago, released a statement expressing their opposition to the plans, saying “This is the worst possible news and a devastating blow for UK child protection.” Anti-bullying charity Kidscape has also come out in support of Ceop’s continuation as an independent organisation, praising the progress made so far under Mr Gamble. Kate and Gerry McCann, who have worked closely with Ceop in the search for their missing daughter Madeleine, were said to be “personally upset and deeply saddened” by Mr Gamble’s resignation, and added their praise of the work Ceop has undertaken.
The merger is set for 2013, and according to Home Secretary Theresa May, Ceop will ‘continue to be able to do its valuable work for children,’ in the meantime, but the programmes proposed by Ceop for Britain’s schoolchildren, as well as its work in general, appear to be under threat.