Child rapist's abuse image laptop 'returned by police'

Laptop Image copyright PA
Image caption Paul Ashbury was jailed earlier this year after an investigation by Norfolk Police

A police force returned a laptop containing abuse images to a man who went on to rape a child, it is alleged.

Paul Ashbury's laptop was among seized items handed back by Essex Police in August 2013, after it dropped a sex assault case against him.

He was arrested by Norfolk Police last year and jailed for child sex offences committed between 2012 and 2017.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct said Essex may have missed some child abuse images on the computer.

In a statement, the watchdog said Norfolk officers examined the machine and found "additional child abuse images which it is believed had not been identified during Essex Police's investigation".

'Extremely serious allegations'

Essex Police arrested Ashbury, 52, from King's Lynn, Norfolk, on suspicion of sexually assaulting a child and possessing indecent images.

Computers which may have contained more than 100 indecent images were handed back when the force decided to take no further action, the IOPC said.

After his subsequent arrest by the Norfolk force, he admitted 27 offences, including 18 counts of raping a child, multiple sexual assaults on under-age females and making indecent photographs.

The Crown Prosecution Service said all of the offences occurred between 2012 and 2017.

IOPC regional director Sarah Green described the allegations as "extremely serious".

She said the watchdog would examine the conduct of the Essex officers to establish "what if anything they could have done differently".

Essex Police said it would "comply fully with the investigation".

"Since this incident Essex Police has made significant improvements to policing of these offences and has invested heavily in more officers and better technology to identify offences and evidence and protect children," a statement said.

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