Potential child sex offenders under Hampshire Constabulary scrutiny have been issued with warning leaflets – and council leader Dave Stewart “would be surprised” if this did not include Island suspects.
Hampshire Constabulary have handed out 54 “disruption notices” or C5 notices since 2016. It is a new tactic used when police do not believe they have sufficient evidence to prosecute.
The force has said this is not a cost cutting measure and is backed up by a leading criminologist and a child sex abuse prevention charity. But it has prompted a backlash both nationally and on the Island.
A police spokesman added there are no plans to issue similar notices to potential offenders of other crimes.
Chair of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Police and Crime Panel, Councillor Dave Stewart said: “It seems quite a good notice, I would be surprised if we hadn’t issued them on the Island because we have had quite significant sexual exploitation-type offences over on the Island, as much as anywhere else.”
Cllr Stewart was formerly a police officer with more than 30 years service and he was a detective inspector when he headed the Island’s CID.
“It always used to be said that there is abuse on the Island and I think there probably is,” he said. “While I am not aware personally of it, we have had serious child sex abuse cases on the Island in years gone by and if the Hampshire Constabulary have a policy where they issue these notices where evidence has fallen short, then anything that keeps people safe must be good.”
But Lynn Hammond, spokesperson for IW Parents Action Group, which seeks to end child abuse, said of the Hampshire Police leaflets: “And they think thats going to stop them?
“I’m a firm believer in trying anything to stop people abusing. But if you’re a serious abuser, you’re not going to take notice of a letter.
“It could mean some people sit up and think, ‘they’re on to me I’d better stop’, but it might just mean they start abusing again when they think the heat is off.”
And Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird, the national lead for child sexual abuse cases – and a former barrister – said she was worried the scheme “won’t protect a soul”.
She added: “I don’t know of anything like this [C5 leaflet] at all. There is nothing like the prospect of a conviction with this.
“Cuts in the budget and a vastly increased demand on policing are likely to have played a part in its use”.
A spokesman for Hampshire Constabulary said: “On October 6 2016, Hampshire Constabulary introduced a new process for changing potential perpetrator behaviour in CSE [Child Sexual Exploitation] cases which do not result a person being charged.
“Working with a leading criminologist Dr Graham Hill and the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a disruption notice known as C5 Notice has been developed.
“The appropriately named C5 Notice focuses on five areas of concerning behaviour: communication, conduct, control, consent and consequences.
“The notice makes clear the law around sexual offending and what types of behaviour and acts are unacceptable.
“The purpose of this notice is to change behaviour through education and signposting to support through the Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s ‘Stop it now’ helpline.
“The notice will only be served on perpetrators who have been released with no further action following a thorough police investigation or where intelligence exists that cannot be developed and service of the notice would not increase the risk to a victim.
“Hampshire Constabulary is the first force in the country to introduce this process.
“Since the process was introduced 54 notices have been issued.”
Of the 54 cases, nine people receiving the leaflets were subsequently charged; males received 52 of them and 34 were issued to under-25s.
A spokesman for the Lucy Faithfull Foundation said: “We were approached by Hampshire Police two years ago with a request to include contact details for our Stop it Now! Helpline and logo on a warning notice being handed to potential perpetrators in child sexual abuse and exploitation cases.
“This is so people with potentially problematic sexual thoughts and behaviour towards children are aware that they can access confidential support via our Helpline to help them manage their behaviour and reduce their risk to children. We are pleased to see Hampshire Police putting into practice the principle of preventing sexual abuse from happening in the first place.”