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Laura Perrins: The police don’t lack power – just the will to enforce existing laws


People who want more power love to say ‘there is a loophole in the law.’ Many think, that this means some evil criminal who is obviously guilty ‘gets off on a technicality’ because there is a ‘loophole’. But in reality it just means the police want more power and more stuff to be made illegal.

The latest call for a ‘loophole’ in the law to be closed came under the emotive area of grooming children for sex. Currently under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, for someone to be arrested for the offence of “meeting a child following sexual grooming”, the suspect must have contacted the victim at least twice – with the intention of abusing them – before the meeting takes place.

So this means you can be arrested for the offence before the meeting has in fact taken place, as long as the victim has been contacted twice to arrange a meeting – once will not do. This, it seems, is a huge loophole which perpetrators must be exploiting ruthlessly.

The point about this offence is that the current requirement of two instances of contact is a watering down of the old law of attempts. Prior to the Sexual Offences Act to prosecute for some sort of attempted sexual assault where paedophiles were setting up meetings following grooming, the Crown would have to prove an attempted sexual assault. But an attempt must be something ‘more than merely preparatory.’ So in reality the paedophile would have to be on his way to the meeting for a prosecution to be successful. Clearly this was to onerous with the onset of the Internet.

However the requirement that there must be at least two points of contact to set up a meeting is hardly very burdensome. Listening to the interview on the Today programme on Radio 4 anyone think the child would have had to be abused before the police could move into arrest. This is not the case. The police do have to wait until a second contact is made before they arrest someone but this hardly makes it a loophole; it just means they have to wait a little longer.

This call to tighten ‘the loophole’ comes in a week when it was to be announced that we have to new law on emotional abuse. Again we are told the current criminal law is not stringent enough and we have to tighten the loophole on it.

Similarly we now have sex ASBOs – civil orders to tackle child sexual exploitation because the ‘current criminal law was being exploited by abuses.’ Never mind that all the evidence was that the abuse was known to various State bodies and was either not passed on to the police or where it was passed on it was not acted upon.

The justification for all this legislation is that the police say they need more powers to tackle whatever heinous crime is being perpetrated. Det Supt Ian Critchley said: “It is essential that police have all the necessary powers to protect vulnerable children from the horrors of child sexual exploitation.” But then the police always want more powers! When have you ever heard a police officer  say, “No thanks, we are all right, we do not need any more power.” Never I tell you. Never! They are power hungry beasts.

And the MPs are just as bad. Always wanting to be seen to be doing something they are more than willing to hand over vast swathes of power to the police. Is anyone ever going to say, hang on there are literally thousands of criminal offences out there, do you really need more? Why don’t you just get off your butts, gather some evidence and actually prosecute one of the many offences you can choose from. Or better still get out of the station and walk to streets preventing said  crime before it is committed. But, no this would require and change in culture and we can’t have that.

It is not that I do not loathe child sexual exploitation or emotional abuse any more than the next person. I do. I made it my business to read the Serious Case Reviews on at least some of the victims in Rochdale and it made me incandescent with rage to see how they were abandoned by the State. But I am not convinced that handing even more power over to police is going to stop the rot. And our MPs should know better.

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