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May 10, 2013 Simon Nash

Paedophile Paranoia – Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

As a new recruit to the world of blogging (although I have been reading for many years) I’ve been waiting for something which I felt strongly enough about to post. One such story was recently sent to me by a good friend and fellow computer forensic investigator.

The story posted from the perspective of a Barrister’s wife, involves a 70 year old man charged with possession of Level 1 child pornography. Such is the stigma associated with offences of this type, it is hard for most people to consider that anyone charged could be innocent. The story goes on to detail the case far better than I can write and can be found here, in a fantastic blog which I am now avidly reading.

The “child pornography” it transpired was in fact innocent pictures of the defendants grandchildren playing  in the garden in the summer sun. I can imagine the descriptions that were put forward to the CPS, as I have had the misfortune to write them, and read them myself many times, over the 10 years or so I have worked in the field of Digital Forensics.

For those of you lucky enough not to have come across the levelling criteria for “child pornography  the levels range from 1 (least serious) to 5 (most serious), and are defined by the content and nature of the image or video. Level 1 is defined as “Images of erotic posing, with no sexual activity”. This level is, in my opinion, most open to miss-interpretation.  The current procedure for some Police Forces, is for a computer specialist to run automated process to identify and produce every live and deleted picture/video still recoverable on a computers hard drive, and provide these to the officer in the case to review and categorise. The reviewing officer may have never carried out this process before, and as such will just apply their own subjective view of whether a picture fits into one of the categories. My view, having worked on a large number of these cases over the years, is likely to be very different to that of a “man on the street”. I am sure that early in my career I categorised pictures as Level 1, which  I would now leave out, as the definition of erotic, is pretty subjective. I am still shocked by some of the images which I see put forward as specimen charges, which frequently include just head and shoulder pictures.

I have come across more than several cases similar in nature to the one described, and it does indeed make me concerned for the future quality of digital forensic investigations, and the outlook for the criminal justice system, should the proposed changes to the legal aid system come into effect.