CPS strengthens guidance on child abusers caught in undercover stings

|News, Sexual offences

Paedophiles who think they are grooming a child for sex, but are actually communicating with an adult, will now face tougher charges.

Would-be abusers caught in undercover operations are to be prosecuted in every case for the same offence as those who meet real-life victims under new CPS guidance.

Evidence obtained by police or other activist groups will result in substantive charges of arranging or facilitating a child sex offence - provided it is of sufficient quality to secure a realistic prospect of conviction.

Previously, charging such crimes as ‘attempts’ had been an option available to prosecutors. This had raised some concern that offenders might receive overly generous discounts in their sentences where the defence pointed out in mitigation that there was no tangible victim.

The change - announced on National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day - follows discussions with stakeholders and external legal advice, which stated that “once the intention is proved, it is immaterial that it is in fact impossible to commit the substantive offence”.

Sue Hemming, CPS Director of Legal Services, said: “The CPS regularly updates its guidance to ensure we are consistent, robust and alert to the changing nature of crime. We know the online grooming of children is a huge area of concern for the public and for parents in particular. 

“Anyone thinking of taking that first dreadful step of trying to contact a child for sex needs to know, from that moment on, they face very serious charges.

“The charge will be the same regardless of who they are in fact communicating with.”

Notes to editors

1. Section 14 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides the offence of arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence. A person commits this offence if:

• He intentionally arranges or facilitates something that he intends to do, intends another person to do, or believes that another person will do, in any part of the world, and doing it will involve the commission of an offence under any of sections 9 to 13
• A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on conviction to up to 14 years’ imprisonment
• See our revised guidance under section 14(1)

2. Offending behaviour could include communicating online with a person believed to a child, but who is in fact an undercover police officer or ‘vigilante’. That person then intentionally arranges to meet in order to commit a child sex offence

3. The CPS has clear legal guidance on vigilantes on the internet in the prosecution guidance section of the website. We make charging decisions in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors on the evidence presented to us and in the public interest, regardless of how that evidence is obtained. We are clear that vigilante activity, whilst often well intentioned, has the potential to disrupt legitimate covert law enforcement activities and it may be necessary for police forces to take appropriate action to intervene where vigilante groups persist in their activity.

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