Detectives who work in a police unit set up to tackle a rise in people across Leeds viewing sexually abusive images of children online have appealed for those who may be curious about looking at indecent material to get help.
The Leeds District Abusive Images Unit, based at Elland Road, was founded in January this year.
Since then the team, which is part of the Leeds District Safeguarding Unit, has executed 86 warrants to arrest those suspected of offending in this way.
In an excluisve interview, officers appealed to a “fringe” of people who may be curious about viewing abusive images of children online to get help.
Detective Inspector Marc Bowes said: “If you are doing it, we will find out. You will be charged and put before the courts. If you are thinking of doing it, there are places you can go to for help and support. Think about the impact on your family and the wider community.
He added: “Every time that image is viewed, that victim is again abused – that’s an abuse of that victim. That’s very much how we see it.”
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which runs the Stop It Now! Get Help website this week said that 2,226 people from around Yorkshire - and more than 500 in Leeds - used it in the 12 months up to September 30.
Overseen by Detective Inspector Marc Bowes, the abusive images unit is run by Detective Sergeant Carol Symon and four detective constables.
Det Insp Bowes said: “In Leeds we recognised that this type of offending and behaviour was on the increase, so we created a specialist team of officers to deal with it.”
But he added: “It’s a worldwide problem. Paedophiles might share indecent images across what they think are secure networks. They are constantly inventing ways that they can circumvent us.”
Officers in the unit typically have to deal with around 12 cases at one time, with each usually taking around three months to develop. Unlike most police jobs, officers in this department are involved at every stage of a particular case from beginning to end.
This involves reviewing initial intelligence – often coming via a tip-off from the National Crime Agency – issuing a warrant for arrests and seizure of equipment, and interviewing suspects.
It also means officers themselves have to look at abusive images so that they can grade their severity while building up a criminal case for the Crown Prosecution Service.
Det Con Jonathan Waring said: “It can be very emotionally taxing. But we have a good support network and a good team around us. We can all talk to each other.”
Compulsory psychological assessments are carried out every six months.
Det Insp Bowes said: “They have to volunteer to come in and do this work. I can imagine it’s not the nicest. But they are all experienced detectives.”