Paedophile's images of abuse victim cannot be deleted, police say

Laptop - generic Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The paedophile's laptop contains images of the girl he abused

Dorset Police officers have said it would be "unlawful" to delete photos of an abuse victim from a paedophile's laptop.

The man, a family member, was jailed in 2013 for nine years after admitting a string of sex offences, including assaulting a child under the age of 13.

He has now formally requested a laptop and a mobile telephone are handed back.

Liberty, which represents the victim's family, said photos of her in swimwear and leotards were on the laptop.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We are looking carefully at the detail of this case."

Dorset Police said they could not delete the family pictures as they were not legally classified as indecent or prohibited.

As a result, the sex offender, who is in his 50s but cannot be named to protect the identity of his victim, will have access to photos of the girl and her family when he is eventually released from jail.

The victim's mother said the family had been "traumatised" by the abuse.

"I am appalled that the man who abused my child can ask the police to hand over our family photos for him to keep for the rest of his life.

"My daughters struggle every day with the devastating consequences of his abuse and this will only make them feel more humiliated and degraded.

"Why should we continue to be traumatised further?"

'Violation of dignity'

Liberty argued that the return of the computer and mobile would breach articles three and eight of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect against inhuman treatment and invasion of privacy, respectively.

In a letter to Dorset Police, Liberty said the prospect of having the photos returned to the abuser was "causing the girls a significant amount of distress" and would be "an enormous violation of their dignity and personal integrity".

The abuse has caused the victim to suffer "enormous psychological harm" and she eats very little, self-harms frequently and is at risk of suicide, Liberty said.

Rosie Brighouse, legal officer at the organisation, said: "We urge the police to protect these victims' dignity.

"It's surely common sense that these vulnerable girls aren't degraded further?"

'Fundamental error'

In a reply, Dorset Police said "present options" were limited as the legislation used to seize the phone and computer required officers to return the property.

The force added: "Furthermore it would be unlawful for police officers to alter the computer and phone's memories by removing the disputed photographs before returning them."

The county's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Martin Underhill, said it was not the fault of the police and has set up an e-petition to lobby to change the "fundamental error" in the law.

He said: "How can we protect victims of sexual abuse if current legislation allows perpetrators to keep images of them?

"Think of the trauma this causes to the victims. And think of the control and power this gives the abuser."

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