Blunders lead to wrongful paedophilia arrests

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Pictured: Nigel Lang, 49, from Sheffield, was arrested in July 2011 and questioned for four hours

Pictured: Nigel Lang, 49, from Sheffield, was arrested in July 2011 and questioned for four hours

Innocent people have been arrested as paedophiles because of blunders in warrants for phone and internet records, a report revealed.

Blameless individuals have seen their children taken into care, homes searched and phones and laptops as a result of ‘appalling’ errors.

More than 20 typographical mistakes had led to wrongful arrests, said the interceptions watchdog.

Major concerns were raised over errors when the authorities linked IP addresses to physical locations.

In his annual report, Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Stanley Burton said the issue was of ‘significant concern’.

He said the mistakes were ‘far more common than is acceptable’, adding: ‘The impact on some victims of these errors has been appalling.’

He said: ‘People have been arrested for crimes relating to child sexual exploitation.

‘Their children have been taken into care, and they have had to tell their employers.

‘On confirmation of the error, all the power of the state, which comes into force to protect children, needs to be turned around and switched off.’

The watchdog is responsible for keeping under review the interception of communications and the acquisition and disclosure of communications data by intelligence agencies, police forces and other public authorities.

The report details one case in which police carried out a search warrant at an incorrect address which resulted in two children being taken into custody by social services for a weekend while their parents were questioned.

Innocent people have been arrested as paedophiles because of blunders in warrants for phone and internet records, a report revealed (stock image) 

Innocent people have been arrested as paedophiles because of blunders in warrants for phone and internet records, a report revealed (stock image) 

Innocent people have been arrested as paedophiles because of blunders in warrants for phone and internet records, a report revealed (stock image) 

In another instance, an innocent person was arrested and interviewed in a blackmail investigation after police applied for his personal details based on a phone number that had been incorrectly recorded within a witness statement.

Another case saw two men arrested on suspicion of luring children over social media after a transposition error changed one digit of the IP address. This meant the police were given the wrong subscriber information and visited the wrong property.

The report also reveals how in one instance the incorrect day and month was typed into an IP resolution request during an investigation into the use of blackmail to incite sexual acts by children over social media.

As a result, police searched an address unconnected with their investigation, carried out forensic examination of a large number of devices owned by innocent people and conducted voluntary interviews of four people.

Sir Stanley praised Nigel Lang, who was previously arrested in error and separated from his son, for highlighting this issue in the media.

A typing error by the police led to him being forced from his home after he was wrongfully arrested for downloading images of child abuse.

Mr Lang, 49, from Sheffield, was arrested in July 2011 and questioned for four hours.

He was placed under strict bail conditions and barred from having unsupervised contact with his two-year-old son.

But he eventually discovered Hertfordshire Police noted down the wrong IP address and passed it on to South Yorkshire Police.

In 2014, under pressure from his lawyers, the force admitted ‘an extra digit had been added’ to the form on a request sent to an internet service provider. That mistake had sent officers to the wrong address – Mr Lang’s.

Last year the force settled out of court last October and Mr Lang was awarded £60,000 in compensation and legal costs.

Internet service providers and phone companies are required to store all of their customers’ communications data for a year.

Communications data covers information such as who sent a message or made a phone call, when and where this happened – but not the content.

More than 750,000 items of communications data were acquired by public authorities during 2016.

Last year 1,101 communications data errors were reported to the Commissioner’s office, with 29 cases classified as serious.

Twenty of these were human error, seven were ‘system/workflow’ errors and in two instances communications data was obtained without the lawful authority.

Innocent people were arrested and/or had their homes searched on seven occasions.

Sir Stanley said that in general the standard of compliance is high.

He added: ‘Errors and more general problems form a very small percentage of the total activity I inspect.’

 





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