POLICE commissioner Martyn Underhill has vowed to ‘fight tooth and nail’ to stop a convicted paedophile getting pictures of his stepdaughter victim returned to him.
The photographs are contained on the abuser’s laptop and mobile phone, which will be given back when he completes the custodial part of his sentence.
But Dorset police chiefs say, under current law, they are powerless to delete the photos, which are family snapshots of the victim and her sister, not indecent images.
In December the Daily Echo revealed how the abuser – a 58-year-old respected pillar of his local community – was sentenced to nine years at Bournemouth Crown Court for sexually abusing his young stepdaughter.
We are not naming the abuser to protect the identity of his victim.
In court, Judge Peter Johnson branded the defendant “dangerous and warped”.
The man has now formally requested his possessions back through his criminal defence lawyer. The police say they have no choice but to comply.
Detective Inspector Steve Symms of Bournemouth CID said: “We sympathise with the personal reasons for the request (by the family for the photos to be withheld from the abuser) being made and recognise we are in a difficult position that may seem contrary to public opinion.
“However, as the police, we must operate impartially within the law as it stands.”
The schoolgirl victim and her mother are outraged at the legal position and say it is unacceptable, morally wrong and a breach of human rights.
The victim’s mother, who is now divorced from the man, told the Daily Echo: “As a family, we are astounded and very angry that we could be put in this position by the law.
“Pictures of my daughters being returned to him is just not acceptable. They have both been through enough.
“It’s an appalling situation.
“I have no idea how he plans to interact with these pictures.
“He had already tried to request the back-up drive of our family photos through my divorce solicitor.
“I just can’t believe the police are powerless and cannot exercise common sense. This is just furthering the suffering of my daughter.”
Dorset police commissioner Martyn Underhill described the situation as “absolutely ludicrous”.
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He told the Echo: “It’s totally and utterly wrong that the family should have been put in this position – or any other victim for that matter.
“I’ll go to court before he gets his devices back with the pictures on them.
“We’ll fight this tooth and nail.
“I have spoken to the police but I think they don’t have a leg to stand on as far as the law is concerned.
“They have to give the property back.
“This needs to be blocked legally first of all and then dealt with through a change in the law.
“It’s a gaping legal loophole that must be closed.”
Mr Underhill said he would lobby MPs to gather political support for the law to be reviewed and has launched an epetition.
Meanwhile Liberty, the civil liberties group, has written to Dorset Police on behalf of the family. It says returning the pictures of the victim and her sister to the abuser would be a breach of their human rights and “an unlawful violation of their privacy”. Legal officer Rosie Brighouse, says it would have significant harmful mental effects on the girls – already both suffering the psychological effects of the abuse.
Liberty has asked the police not to return the devices until the photos have been deleted or returned to the girl’s mother. Ms Brighouse says Liberty is likely to seek a judicial review in the High Court.
“He has made a mess of so many lives”
Last December the mother of the victim opened her heart to the Daily Echo over devastating consequences of the abuse.
Sarah (not her real name) explained that what she thought was a normal, loving family life was shattered into a thousand pieces when her younger daughter disclosed she was being abused by her stepdad, Sarah’s husband.
One of the most frightening things about the whole issue was how plausible he was.
“My husband was a churchgoer, a pillar of the community. These abusers are always seemingly the nice, dependable people.
“That is how they manage to insinuate their way into communities and families. It’s also a cover if allegations are made. People would think ‘no, not him. He couldn’t possibly have done that’.
“He’s educated. He appeared to know something about everything which is part of the way they try to control you.
“With hindsight, it’s as though he read a textbook on how to behave while all the time grooming my daughter and those around him.”
Sarah first met the abuser a decade ago.
“I was a single mum and was pleased to have met someone who seemed to be perfect for me and who appeared to love my two daughters. They loved him.
“It is such a betrayal. People like him act like they absolutely adore your children.
“I am trying to deal with this with my daughter while at the same time coming to terms with the fact that my marriage has been a sham all these years.
“I am just so angry at all the devastation he has caused my children.”
“He is sitting in the protection of his prison cell and we are left picking up the pieces.
“He has made a mess of so many lives.”
Dorset Police statement
In a statement, Dorset Police said the laptop and mobile phone were seized in the initial stages of the investigation, but not used evidentially at court as they did not contain indecent images or other evidence of criminality.
“Therefore, destruction orders for the devices or the data on them could not be sought. In such cases, the law is very clear that the police have no option but to return the equipment to its owner in its original condition.
Detective Inspector Steve Symms said he understood that legal avenues were being sought to block the return of the photos.
He added: “We have also asked for legal advice to explore any other options available to us and we are working to identify compromises that could be reached voluntarily.”
- NSPCC 0808 800 5000 nspcc.org.uk
- Childline 0800 1111 childline.org.uk
- MOSAC (Mothers of Sexually Abused Children) 0800 980 1958 mosac.org.uk
- Dorsetactiononabuse.com 01202 732424
- 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused
- Over 90% of those children were abused by someone they know