International action needed to fight paedophiles and child pornographers

LAST week there was considerable alarm when a convicted paedophile escaped from Northern Ireland and headed South where he seemingly moved about freely even though the gardaí were notified of his presence.

Yet, Paul Hunter Redpath was described by the PSNI as a ‘predator’ who also abused alcohol.

That considerable alarm was justified because the PSNI also warned that he was a “very real threat and someone who needs to be supervised and monitored extremely closely if children around him are to be protected”.

Hunter went missing from his approved residence in the North last September, less than a week after being released from prison where he had served half of a three-year sentence for unlawful carnal knowledge and indecent assault of a


Apart from the jail sentence, he was also ordered to sign the sex offenders’ register.

He was definitely not someone any parent of young children would want to see about the neighbourhood, but that’s precisely what could have happened.

He was sighted in various parts of the country and could have got a job working with children had he not informed his employer of his background.

The gardaí would have been none the wiser, especially if it was a job where vetting was not required.

Obviously, Redpath was not closely monitored in the North, otherwise he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to abscond as he did.

Had he been wearing an electronic tag, he might not have been able to disappear from that jurisdiction.

In the US, former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling is wearing one as he waits for 90 days to be hauled off to serve a 24-year sentence. In the meantime, the authorities know where he is for the duration of his freedom.

Where the safety of children is concerned, maybe it’s something that should be considered for convicted paedophiles.

The ISPCC believes this country is a safe haven for high-risk sex offenders, like Redpath. Paul Gilligan, its chief executive, while not referring to electronic tags, has said a protocol between enforcement agencies to ensure better international monitoring is essential.

Of course, it is — especially since this country is considered a safe haven. The laws here have to be strengthened to ensure Ireland does not become a destination for convicted paedophiles. Greater international monitoring of users of child pornography is also needed. Mr Gilligan said there was no indication that the vast majority of them abuse children, but he made the point that child pornography “desensitises”.

He added: “There is a small but significant proportion who go on to abuse. Of course, they are all supporting child abuse,” he said.

Mr Gilligan was speaking in the context of child pornography becoming more available and increasingly difficult to combat, as revealed in a study commissioned by the Department of Justice and carried out by Prof Ian O’Donnell and researcher Claire Milner of UCD’s Institute of Technology.

Under the Sex Offenders Act 2001, judges have the power to insist that an offender attend counselling and psychotherapy. Mr Gilligan agrees with the UCD study that people found in possession of child pornography should have to attend counselling. He also believes that a special investigation should be carried out in cases where the perpetrator has children.

The UCD study, using data supplied by the gardaí, revealed that some 204 people were suspected of committing an offence under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act between 2002 and 2004. Research was conducted on 138 of them, and gardaí detected a crime in 120 cases (87%). In the other cases, evidence was either non-existent or insufficient.

There is little known about the sentences handed down and it seems the DPP routinely does not record them from the District Court, which seems strange, although figures show that 60% of cases prosecuted were on indictment before the higher courts.

Interestingly, the study found that one-third of judges thought the sanctions available were inadequate, although half considered them appropriate.

However, the vast majority of judges said they would consider putting an offender on probation under certain circumstances if, for example, it involved ‘monitoring’ by the Probation Service.

About 10 years ago the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) was set up, but the interesting thing is what happened in Britain in the meantime.

The number of websites originating there with illegal material has fallen dramatically from 18% to 0.2%, but what has worsened in the past 12 months is the appalling nature of what the sites contain.

The IWF is not just concerned about what happens with regard to child pornography on the internet in Britain, but internationally.

AT the moment there are 24 countries around the world who have set up similar organisations targeting online message boards, photo-sharing services and websites.

More than four years ago the gardaí staged one of their biggest and most dramatic security operations ever when more than 500 officers throughout the country raided homes, businesses and offices in Operation Amethyst.

They struck at over 110 premises in a top secret search for child pornography downloaded from the internet.

Their targets included a judge, solicitors, the owner of a children’s fun park, school headmasters, a librarian, a banker, a choirmaster, a health board official and the chief executive of a large company.

About 140 computers, as well as a large number of CDs and discs, were taken away for analysis. That was the culmination of a year’s work by the Garda Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Unit attached to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. They had received information from the FBI through Interpol.

To be any way successful such an operation involves a lot of painstaking investigation and patience.

About four years before Operation Amethyst, the FBI organised a huge surveillance investigation into child pornography after it had received a tip-off from the US postal service which had discovered that a company set up by a couple in the southern states were selling child pornography on the internet.

But it was not confined to the American south.

The FBI had tracked, worldwide, an incredible 150,000 people who had allegedly bought material from the site.

Eventually, details of about 130 were passed to the gardaí after investigators had checked out credit cards that had been used to buy material from the site.

While the DPP ruled out some cases because there was insufficient evidence, there were successful prosecutions. These included celebrity chef Tim Allen; the former owner of a children’s fun park, Peter Morphew, and a former priest and health promotion officer, Paul McDaid.

In this country it is not an offence to visit child porn sites under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998, but it certainly is a crime to download the material, possess it or distribute it. Conviction through indictment in a higher court attracts a jail sentence of between five and 14 years.

In the past 10 years America is suspected of being the source of more than 50% of all child pornography, followed by 20% from Russia, with Spain and Japan supplying 7% and 5%, respectively, and Britain about 1.6%.

But the internet recognises no boundaries and the problem of child pornography, like paedophilia, is a global one. It is impossible to combat it solely on a national basis. Both problems demand international co-operation at a level much great than exists at present.

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