Agency shake-up 'a risk to children' says ex-Ceop boss

Jim Gamble Mr Gamble said he did not believe the decision was in the best interests of children and young people

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The former head of the UK's child protection agency has suggested children could be put at risk by plans to reform it.

Jim Gamble resigned from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) over plans to make it part of a new National Crime Agency.

He told The Times changes to the body - which fights child sex abuse - could be dangerous.

The Home Office said child protection would always be "an absolute priority".

It said the government valued the important work carried out by Ceop.

The Home Office recently announced that the body would investigate the prevalence of cases of gangs befriending and then "grooming" young girls on the street before sexually abusing them.

'Serious errors'

Mr Gamble said the government's plans to bring Ceop under a new FBI-style agency were driven not by what was best for children, but by the drive for a "bonfire of the quangos".

He resigned in November, giving notice, but had not spoken publicly until now.

He told The Times: "I would rather resign now and highlight what I believe is a mistake for child protection than find myself resigning in two or three years' time because something had gone horribly wrong and we'd made serious errors.

"It's become less important to save kids than to save face. Ceop works because it is about child protection first and foremost, but I'm afraid it is being dragged back into the blue serge of policing."

Although staffed by many police officers, Ceop is a separate agency, affiliated to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).

It was set up in 2006 to help find and convict paedophiles, as well as working to keep young people safe from predators when they are online.

It investigates child trafficking and works to identify and trace victims of child abuse whose images are put on film or the internet.

Priority

Ceop has run several campaigns and educational programmes for schools designed to alert children and teenagers to the dangers from online predators.

The plan to merge Ceop with a new National Crime Agency in 2013 was announced in July by the Home Secretary Theresa May.

She said the government recognised the importance of child protection and wanted to build on the work of Ceop.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "Child protection will always be an absolute priority for this government and we value the important work carried out by Ceop.

"We want to ensure that its vital role continues and flourishes. We are discussing with the new chief executive how Ceop could further develop and thrive if it were to form part of the new National Crime Agency."

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