Detective Constable Paul Fitzharris is a member of Bedfordshire Police’s dedicated Internet Child Abuse Investigation Team (ICAIT) and is profiled in the latest episode of 24 Hours in Police Custody, named Guilty Little Secrets. The episode focuses on his work to help convict a doctor of possessing and distributing indecent images of children.
There is no ‘stereotypical’ paedophile.
Paedophiles come from all walks of life. There is no typical look, job, personality, age – we investigate people of both genders, from all walks of life, from teenagers to people in their 70s.
That’s what was particularly striking about the case featured in 24 Hours in Police Custody – the offender was a doctor.
The case came to us from intelligence gathered as part of a national file-sharing operation by the National Crime Agency. We searched the doctor’s home and found he had been sharing indecent images of children.
Now he’s thrown away any chance of ever practising in this country again.
Searching a home for evidence of this type of crime is like throwing a hand grenade into someone’s life. The effect it has on their family, friends, work and entire life is like an explosion.
Often the person will have had no prior dealings with the police. Their loved ones may say it can’t be right, that we must have got the wrong guy. But this kind of file-sharing leaves a footprint and the trail leads us directly to them.
In the doctor’s case, we actually only uncovered a handful of files. The sorts of criminals who do this may make use of cleansing software and use and discard lots of different laptops and equipment.
In my opinion it doesn’t matter if you hold 10 images or 10,000 – we will still come after you.
People often say they were just curious or they came across them by mistake, but we know you don’t just stumble across this type of material.
But occasionally you see a video that’s just horrible. You just wonder what goes through people’s heads – they become so desensitised that they go in search of worse and worse things to get a kick.
You might hear a paedophile say that because it’s on a computer screen, it’s not real. You ask them whether they would stand by and watch as someone was being raped in the street and they say no, of course not – but that’s exactly what they are doing.
Children are being abused for these people’s sexual gratification – if there wasn’t the demand, then it wouldn’t be happening.
It’s hard not to take the job home with you. I wonder, where is that child now? What has happened to them? It’s horrendous.
It’s a different world now. Advances in technology mean even children are able to access things they previously couldn’t – and we are investigating more and more cases where young people are sharing self-generated indecent images.
I have even dealt with children as young as 11 who are becoming pressured into performing explicit acts online.
As a dad to a young boy, it scares me how sexually aware children are becoming now they all have access to smartphones and tablets.
There is no way of policing their use of such gadgets 24/7 – I think it’s just important to educate your children about the risks. They may be technologically savvy but they are still children at the end of the day, and are naïve enough to fall for things you or I wouldn’t as adults.
Unfortunately I know that there are people out there who are willing to exploit that naivety.
Luckily these same advances in technology are helping us catch the criminals, protect the vulnerable, and prevent further children from being abused in this way.
There are definitely rewarding parts to the job and people are always supportive and respectful of the difficult job I do.
It’s surprising, but a lot of the people I investigate for possessing and sharing indecent images are thankful, too. They tell me: ‘Thank God you’ve got me. I have hated myself for years.’
They may want to stop, but they don’t know how.
Our work can make sure they never get the chance to do this again.