The Con Dems have announced that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) is to be merged with the National Serious and Organised Crime Agency and the UK Border Agency from 2013.

Jim GambleCEOP is a centre of expertise in protecting children from online abuse. Although part of UK policing there is clear partnership working, involving child protection specialists, seconded staff from the NSPCC and industry contacts from Microsoft etc. CEOP was described by Theresa May, herself, earlier this year as ‘vital.’

Now the decision to merge CEOP has led to the resignation of the Chief Executive, Jim Gamble, who is one of the foremost acknowledged experts on online safeguarding. It is reported tonight that 3 other senior managers are set to resign in protest at both the decision and the lack of consultation.

The work CEOP has undertaken since 2006 has transformed the protection of children and young people. It led the way in understanding the role of the internet in the creation and transmission of images of child sexual abuse.

Indeed, it led the very debate in shifting the language used from the anodyne ‘child pornography’ to the acknowledgement that these were pictures and films of real children being abused and so should be rightly called ‘images of child sexual abuse.’

CEOP has trained 6 million children in online safety through its training programme disseminated in schools and youth clubs. Since 2006 it has disrupted 262 high risk sex offender networks (96 of these in the last year alone.)

624 children have been safeguarded since its inception and 11,258 professionals have been trained. CEOP has international child protection networks including those in Vietnam, Romania and Cambodia and has been at the forefront of developing responses to child trafficking.

CEOP workers were instrumental in Operation Ore which disrupted the activities of those accessing extreme images of child sexual abuse throughout America, Canada and Britain. They also spend countless harrowing hours watching images of child abuse to try to identify the victims from anything from the view from a window, the make of sheets on a bed or the wallpaper pattern. So enabling the victims to be safeguarded and helped.

All of this expertise will be lost if CEOP is merged into another organisation. The function of the unit will be a clear police agenda of offender prosecution and the multi agency work which means that delivery of training, support and advice to other professionals, the general public and young people will be lost.

Online abuse and exploitation of children is not an abstract notion that can be acknowledged when economic times are good and forgotten when times are supposedly tough. Real children are being harmed and their lives ruined.

There can be no clearer proof of the immorality of the Con Dems than their willingness to put children at real risk of sexual abuse in order to pay for their crisis.