Police Scotland sets up National Child Abuse Investigation Unit

A child on a swing Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The new taskforce comes amid concern over systematic abuse such as that uncovered in Rotherham

A new national task force is to be set up to tackle child sex abuse in Scotland.

The Police Scotland National Child Abuse Investigation Unit aims to improve co-ordination and intelligence gathering.

The move follows concern about systematic child exploitation of the type uncovered recently in Rotherham.

Since April 2013, 283 people have been charged with offences linked to online activity.

Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham will appear before the Scottish Parliament's justice committee on Tuesday to explain what the force is doing to tackle child sexual exploitation.

He said the creation of a single force in Scotland was an opportunity to maximise specialist skills and expertise in keeping children safe.

This week new guidance was issued to police officers and staff to ensure a consistent response to children who may be vulnerable to child sexual exploitation.

Assistant Chief Constable Graham said: "Through our action plan, our aim is to improve our work in prevention, our training for our police officers and staff and our work with partners.

"A key part of our plan is the development of a National Child Abuse Investigation Unit which will lead and co-ordinate complex inquiries, develop good practice through making the maximum use of our specialist investigation skills and by improving our links with the third sector and local authorities we can improve our intelligence networks to proactively identify such cases."

New technology

In January, the NSPCC children's charity highlighted a rise in sexual abuse cases in Scotland involving children under the age of 13.

Police Scotland recorded more than 700 offences against young children in 2012/13. The charity also reported a rise in calls to its helpline.

The taskforce will build on the work of Operation Dash, a multi-agency operation led by Police Scotland, which is trying to determine the extent of child sexual exploitation in the Greater Glasgow area.

Assistant Chief Constable Graham added: "There is no doubt that across the globe the volume of offending through all forms of online activity, whether possession of indecent images of children, online grooming with intent to committing further sexual offences or the exchange of indecent images amongst groups is escalating due to increased access to mobile devices, improved download technologies and the development of sophisticated software to conceal activity.

"All law enforcement agencies recognise the challenge this presents but the solution will not be offered by one agency alone, but by working together across the justice sector, across the voluntary sector and with local authorities in tackling this issue.

"We continue to invest in developing technologies and investigation techniques and will learn from best practice across the world in order to target offenders to prevent crime."

Children in care

In a submission to Holyrood's Justice Committee, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said recent cases had highlighted the vulnerability of children living in care.

COPFS chief executive Catherine Dyer said: "They have multiple layers of complex needs and concerns.

"They can willingly associate with older males who offer cigarettes, alcohol and a night away from their residential home.

"Many of these teenage children do not realise that they are victims of exploitation and even when they commence engagement with the criminal justice system they remain extremely vulnerable and distrustful of all agencies."

The Justice Committee can be watched live or on demand at BBC Scotland's Democracy Live.

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