How a major enquiry shaped the future of victim care in Bedfordshire

A new sexual assault referral centre (SARC) for Bedfordshire has been heralded as a centre of excellence in the provision of facilities for victims of rape and sexual assault.

A standalone, purpose-designed facility, it contains two state-of-the art, fully equipped forensic examination suites which, while being technically compliant, are designed to put victims at ease by having a less clinical ambience than a hospital or medical centre. The centre also boasts tailored facilities for adults, teens and children, and working spaces for SARC staff and police officers.

But roll the clock back three decades and you’d see a very different landscape in the investigation of such cases, and in victim care.

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Continuing the fight against online child sexual abuse

Bedfordshire Police has a dedicated Internet Child Abuse Investigation Team (ICAIT), which is responsible for investigating online child sexual abuse and prosecuting adults who make, possess and distribute indecent images of children.

The team currently consists of eight Investigation Officers, three Detective Constables, two Detective Sergeants and a Detective Inspector, along with a Victim Identification Officer.

During 2019, the team conducted 320 investigations, which resulted in more than 35 years’ total jail time for a number of offenders and around 700 devices being seized for examination.

Nicky Owen has worked as an Investigation Officer within ICAIT for five years and has found that despite the horrific nature of the material she has to investigate, she gets immense job satisfaction in knowing that she is responsible for locking these offenders away.

She said: “Working in this area isn’t for the faint-hearted and some of the images and videos I have come across in my time working in ICAIT, I can never un-see and that can be quite hard to deal with.

“We are an incredibly busy team as we receive information from different sources alerting us that a device linked to an IP address or social media page has recently been the subject of a number of possible illegal uploads or downloads. This marks the start of our investigation into developing information on the person we think is the offender.

“We tend to carry out at least two to three search warrants each week, usually early morning so we are guaranteed to find that person at home and to cause as little disruption as possible.

“Of course this has a devastating effect on the family as I feel like our arrival and the arrest of their family member blows their whole world apart.

“It is also difficult when there are children living at the address and a lot of time, if the suspect is released on bail, they will have to find alternative accommodation, rather than residing back in the family home. This can be extremely distressing for the children as they are unlikely to understand the situation.

“During the search, we seize any devices that may contain illegal material. These can include phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, USBs and disc drives, but also online chat forums so they can be searched for certain phrases and language to see who the suspect has been communicating with.

“The devices are then submitted for forensic examination before coming back to our team and we then manually grade the images and videos: Category A being the most serious and Category C is the least.

“This can be the most difficult part of the job and we never know what we are going to find, although more often than not, the same images do crop up time and time again. Grading the images and videos can take several hours as there are thousands to go through.

“One of the worst cases I have investigated recently was Asim Hussain, who was jailed for making and distributing indecent images of children in February 2019. We received information that he had been downloading indecent images and during the search warrant, we also uncovered a substantial amount of drugs and cash.

“He was jailed for six years for the drug offences and then received an additional 18 months for the indecent images offences after we found more than 50,000 images ranging from Category A to Category C.

“The case featured on 24 Hours in Police Custody and although the public’s reaction was extremely positive towards our work, it also highlighted how disappointing the sentences can be for this type of offence.

“I often get asked how I deal with some of the things I have to see, and we do receive support from the force, but I have my partner and great friends around me who are vital in helping me switch off when I’m not at work. I’m also lucky to work with a fantastic team – we support each other and have a similar sense of humour, which helps get us through some of the darker jobs.

“Viewing and possessing indecent images of children is by no means a victimless crime. It causes and propagates real harm to the children concerned, as they are abused and exploited in such a vile and appalling way. Unfortunately behind closed doors, some people have dark secrets they are determined to hide, but I am proud that my role within Bedfordshire Police helps to put these perpetrators behind bars before they inflict abuse on anyone else.”

Parents can visit the Parents Protect website, which is run by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, for lots of useful resources to help prevent online child sexual abuse. It also contains a list of organisations and resources focusing on keeping children safe in the digital world.

The NSPCC Share Aware website also contains advice and tips about how children can keep themselves safe online.

To report concerns around child sexual abuse call the police on 101.

I had always wanted to be a police officer, now I’m one in my spare time

Jonathan Behan, known as Jon, volunteers as a Special Constable with Bedfordshire Police alongside his day-job in insurance.

I had always wanted to be a police officer.

At the age of 13, I can remember running to the back door looking at all the police cars going past the house with their blue lights and sirens on.

At the age of 15, I did two weeks work experience with Bedfordshire Police based at Luton. This was during the July 2005 bombings which opened my eyes up to the work that police do. I quickly realised it’s not all about fast cars and flashing lights, it’s about helping people in a time of crisis.

A little while after my work experience I attended a career day at my local police headquarters and spoke to a few members of staff. They advised it would be best to get some life experience behind me then apply when I am older. Life took over at 22 and I had my first child. I then took a step away from pursuing my career with the police to concentrate on my family.

I am now the grand old age of 30 and currently work for a large insurance company dealing with personal injuries. I joined Bedfordshire Police as a Special Constable in July 2019 and am currently based in the South which covers Luton, Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard.

Taking the first step – I applied for the Special Constable role through the Bedfordshire Police website.

I got through the application process! I decided to choose a three week intensive course with additional training for eight Mondays after attestation (graduation).

The initial three weeks intensive training included personal safety training, cell extraction and handcuffing, along with practical situation training including role plays and a lot of classroom training on law and professional behaviours. During our evening sessions, we learnt more about law, decision making and how to spot vulnerable victims. We also had to do a lot of homework, including online training.

Being a Special means the world to me.

My children are proud that their father has become a volunteer police officer. It also gives me a sense of pride knowing that I can make a real difference to people I interact with. I love the variety of the role and the people you work with.

Although I have not been a Special for long, one of my favourite moments of becoming a Special was the day we attested. It was a long day with our final test and role plays but seeing my family over the moon that their dad, son, brother and partner managed to achieve a goal that he worked hard for meant a lot to me.

I was part of a cohort of 14 and at times some of us struggled with the learning phase, however, my cohort came together to help and everyone achieve the end goal of being sworn in by the magistrate.

I couldn’t have done it without the support of my cohort and family.

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As a Special, you get some flexibility to choose what you would like to do.

One day I could be working a road block as part of an operation, the next day I could be helping the local community teams establish good working relationships with their communities.

I also enjoy attending 999 calls with the response teams. You could be dealing with a domestic related incident one minute and the next you could attend an armed robbery.

When you put that uniform on, you become the face of Bedfordshire Police and people young and old do look up to you. When I go out, I try to engage with people as much as I can to ensure that any perceptions of the police they may have can be changed for the better.

The role of a Special is very broad and no two shifts are ever the same and I feel I am helping make a difference.

I have learnt how to be assertive but remain focused on the end goal.

I’ve also learnt that no two situations are the same and an open mind is essential when approaching any situation in order for us to gain all the necessary information and facts. I have been using these new skills lot on my two sons, who do love having a fight with each other, and found that the fighting has now calmed down, which is a relief for their mother!

The most important skill I’ve gained, without a doubt, is to remain positive and focused. No matter how tough the situation gets, if you remain focused and positive, you can walk away knowing you have done all you can to resolve the situation.

I have gained a lot of skills that help me day to day. One of the main skills I have learnt is how to calm down a situation and work with someone to achieve an end result. I have managed to transfer this skill over to my day to day work and have actually seen an improvement.

I have also learnt how to fully adapt my approach to specific situations to ensure that people I deal with can walk away knowing they have been treated with respect.

Bedfordshire Police has quickly become my extended family.

Everyone I have dealt with from recruitment all the way through to Inspectors have been nothing but supportive and understanding. Everyone looks out for one another. Every day is a school day and regardless of being new or a 20 year veteran, you will always learn something new.

Although my work does not support the Employer Supported Policing programme, they have been very flexible in allowing me time off to attend training and targeted operations. The ESP programme allows more people the flexibility to volunteer with the police and in return gain invaluable skills that can be transferred back into their working environment.

If you are thinking of applying to become a Special, do some homework and see if the role is for you. If it is, then do it.

If you would like to find out more about the role of a special constable and apply click here.