Friday, October 15, 2010


April 19th 2006.

GAMBLE when the World was his oyster.

Cybercop crusade

Jim Gamble, the director of the new Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, tells Mark Gould how he plans to expose sexual predators who are a threat to children and educate young people about the dangers of the net

Jim Gamble
Jim Gamble says not all offenders should go to jail. Photograph: Frank Baron
Jim Gamble issues a warning: "If you are a paedophile and you are online talking to children tonight, the chances are increasing that you are grooming a police officer and it's going to end in tears for you."

Gamble, a career police officer, is the first director of the new Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) Centre, which will be launched by ministers on Monday. "We are here to tell abusers that the internet is not the Wild West, it's a public place and we police public places," he says. The centre is a world first, bringing law enforcers in the UK, the US and Australia together with the information technology industry, charities and schools. It is fighting to protect children from paedophile abuse, and aims to jail those who make and those who use images of abuse.

By liaising with police services in the US and Australia, the Ceop centre will provide a 24/7 online police station where potential paedophile crime can be reported at the click of a mouse. It will provide education in internet safety for parents and children, and work with the computer industry to develop new products and services that prevent children being exposed to potential abuse.

The UK has seen a sharp rise in the number of paedophile websites - some 6,000 sites were last year reported to the Internet Watch Foundation, the UK industry watchdog, and are now out of reach to UK internet users. This compares with 3,438 sites in 2004. One of the prime areas of concern is the online games world, where children could also be interacting with men who want to groom them for sex.

To tackle these threats, specialists from Microsoft, AoL and children's charities - including Childnet and the NSPCC - have been seconded to the unit. Gamble says the Ceop centre will create fake paedophile websites and have "undercover" officers posing as children on internet chatrooms. It will also have a permanent presence in other countries, initially Cambodia, where it will work with local police identifying and tracking down child abusers and those making money from creating and selling images.

Sitting in the Ceop centre's anonymous HQ in central London, Gamble introduced me to the world of child sexual abuse with a shockingly explicit description of the images that men pay many millions of pounds to see. He spoke without emotion, but for the uninitiated the images were like a punch in the stomach. "These are not 16-year-olds in school uniforms - these are young children being penetrated - horribly abused," he points out.

Gamble was previously a superintendent in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and most recently acting chief constable and head of the National Crime Squad, which deals with serious and organised crime. Since 2002 it has jailed or cautioned 2,200 people in connection with Operation Ore, which was launched after US police gave British police the names and credit card details of 7,200 men suspected of paying for internet images of child sexual abuse.

Gamble is uncompromising in his attitude to those who view images of abuse, and is dismissive of those who say they access paid-for sites for "research" purposes or out of curiosity. "People commit child abuse either directly or indirectly. If you are going online and feeding demand by paying for images, people will meet that demand because they have no scruples. Anyone who puts these pictures of children online not only offends against that child today but every time these images are viewed. And when we capture someone and we have to go back and ascertain the who, what, why and wherefore, that child is victimised again."

He is certain that viewing paedophile images creates child sexual abusers. "The evidence that we have seen is that the individual will gravitate towards wanting more images with more graphic detail. Many offenders when caught said: 'The next step for me is the real thing.'"

Some charities and organisations offer therapeutic treatment to child sex offenders, but Gamble says the only certain way of preventing a paedophile from reoffending is the knowledge they are constantly monitored - both online and in the real world - and face the threat of jail.

Is it possible to change the behaviour of a sexual predator who is a threat to children? "My view is that you cannot change their behaviour to a degree where you can say they will be safe or can be reintegrated into an environment where they can have access to children."

Does that mean these people have no human rights? "Of course it doesn't. It means that we have a responsibility to help them [refrain] from offending again, and where they don't accept that, help to ensure that they are deterred from reoffending because they will be caught."

The Ceop centre will build on the success of a police initiative that used a dummy website to lure paedophiles into revealing credit card details when accessing child abuse images. When website users think they are about to click on an actual image it tells them that their details have been passed to local police. Gamble says Ceop centre officers will also pose as children in chatrooms. "We will operate webcam scenarios so that we will be able to provide the same pictorial evidence as speed cameras."

He denies that these tactics amount to entrapment. "If someone is selling drugs outside school you would want the police to do something about it. We are simply testing whether facts are true. We will collect evidence and hold people to account."

The centre will also educate children about the dangers of the internet. Last year, Gamble's officers - along with a small charity called Childnet, and Microsoft's news service, MSN - provided a series of virtual tutorials for 50,000 children, using modern and multimedia techonology, where they learned about the benefits and threats of the internet. "There are 9.5 million schoolkids in the UK. Imagine if we could get them all to save the Ceop centre's website to their favourites box so that whenever they are online they can fill in a form telling us who they are talking to, what [those people] are saying and why they think it is a threat."
Gamble is confident that children are new-media savvy enough to use the internet with caution, but he says the online gaming environment could attract potential abusers. As a result, the Ceop centre is developing a youth panel from which it hopes to take lessons about protection in the gaming world.

But what about today's moral mindset? Footballers and celebrities boast of group sex. Isn't the commodification of sex making its most taboo forms - even child sexual abuse - in some way acceptable? "In 1874, the Metropolitan police arrested a photographer, Henry Hayler, who had 130,000 paedophilic images on glass plates: the internet didn't invent paedophiles. Our moral compass may have moved.

"There are many who say that people gravitate from adult pornography to child- abuse images. We perpetuate the human race because we have sex with one another - that hasn't led to massive numbers of people gravitating from having sex with an adult to sex with a child. Consenting adults can do what they like. This is about protecting children and we don't make moral judgments, we make legal judgments."
· The Ceop centre is at

Curriculum vitae

Age 46

Status Married, with three children

Career Twenty-five years in the police force, starting as a uniformed officer in his native Northern Ireland, where he rose to be head of the Northern Ireland anti-terrorist intelligence unit; deputy head of the National Crime Squad, which fights organised and hi-tech crime; set up the NCS specialist peadophile online investigation team (Polit), which led Operation Ore; played a key role in setting up the Virtual Global Taskforce, the international police response to paedophile crime

Interests Jujitsu (black belt)

Two of his children named after the Soham girls...Jessica and Holly