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Police adopt softly softly approach over nude pics

By Donna MacAllister

Detective Chief Inspector Vince McLaughlin
Detective Chief Inspector Vince McLaughlin

Sending an erotic selfie will not automatically land teenagers a criminal record, police in the Highlands have stressed.

The region’s top child protection officer, Detective Chief Inspector Vince McLaughlin, said pupils who send naked photographs of themselves to others at school using their cameraphones could have the crime of making and distributing indecent images recorded against them.

But he said that each incident was being dealt on its own merits.

“The message that we send out to our schools is there is the potential that children who engage in sexual activity and the sharing of images could be convicted of a criminal offence depending on the circumstances — it is a possibility. But our aim is not to criminalise children, our aim is to protect children.”

His comments come after police in the Highlands last week attributed a slight rise in reported sexual crime in part to “the younger generation sharing images”.

Local area commander Colin Gough told councillors at the Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey area committee that the number recorded in the south Highland area between April and July showed the number of sexual crimes being reported had risen from 27 to 37.

Under current law a teenager younger than 18 who takes a nude selfie using a cameraphone is guilty of creating child pornography.

Anti censorship civil liberties campaign groups across the UK have expressed concern and say a prosecution, regardless of sentencing outcome, severely harms the future life prospects of young people.

Some teenagers, although not charged, have their names put into a police database which could prevent them from working with children. Depending on the circumstances, some could even find themselves being added to the child protection register.

Mr McLaughlin insisted it was right that the police recorded information about teenagers and share it with their partners in health and the local authority.

Meanwhile, a police hub set up to investigate child abuse and neglect has already been involved in more than 90 enquiries in the north. Five officers from the Livingston-based National Child Abuse Investigation Unit have been working with police at HQ at Old Perth Road in Inverness since January.

A Freedom of Information request reveals they have supported 93 enquiries across the Highlands and Islands since the start of the year.

Detective Inspector Jacqui Campbell, who oversees the unit, said: “What I would say is that is not an unusually high figure for the north. If you break that down even into a month-by-month basis that is not an unusually large number of cases, I think that would be standard over a period of nine months that you would expect to see in an area like Highlands and Islands.”

Over the same period, specialist officers from the Livingston hub have also worked on 18 online investigations involving people sharing indecent images of children online.

DI Campbell said: “The five dedicated officers have just undergone a number of training courses. They are specialised in their field. One officer recently became trained in digital media investigations. That is really as far up to speed as we can be in relation to investigations and the world of cyber crime so that is a really brilliant resource. I think there are only handful trained throughout Scotland and there is one in Inverness so we plan to make good use of them in the future.”

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