List in translationby Catherine Woulfe
The Sensible Sentencing Trust and the Police Minister are at odds over the question of a register for sex offenders.
Once a paedophile, always a paedophile, former cop Ian Tyler has come to believe. So his first point is that we shouldn’t be pinning our hopes on “rehabilitation”.
“I think it’s all about management,” he says. “Managing the risk, managing the sexual urge against children.”
Tyler’s opinion is based on long and harrowing experience. Now retired and living in Canterbury, he found his niche over his 28 years policing in the UK in bringing to justice offenders who sexually abused children or traded in images of the abuse.
In 2006 Tyler, by then a detective chief inspector, helped to found the UK’s specialised and much-admired Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP). He led its operations arm for the next two and a half years, and helped found the Virtual Global Taskforce, which is essentially a gentlemen’s agreement to ignore international red tape where doing so will help crack child abuse cases. He then talked former New Zealand Police Commissioner Howard Broad into joining the taskforce, which meant Broad first had to set up a specialist national policing unit to protect children from online abuse. That unit continues today.
But Tyler is probably best known for the 2007 spycraft-heavy bust of an online paedophile network lead by 27-year-old Timothy Cox, who called himself “Son of God”. Cox, the Observer reported, had “tired of trading in pictures of abuse” and branched out, arranging “the live abuse of youngsters at predesignated times as people might gather to watch a televised football match”.
After raiding Cox’s home, police rescued 31 children and babies (most of whom were being abused in their own homes). They also spent 10 days on the website posing as Cox, which resulted in the identification of 700 men and trials that spanned 35 countries.
At the time, Tyler warned it was likely that hundreds of similar websites were operating and that online child abuse was “the biggest challenge facing modern policing to date”.
Tyler remains adamant about that. He believes that New Zealand’s small size, our “can-do attitude” and the fact that we have only one police force [as opposed to the UK’s more than 40, for example] puts us in a strong position to ramp up our child protection services – but so far, he says, we’re lagging.
A QUESTION OF PUBLIC ACCESS
There are official wheels in motion, however. Police and Corrections Minister Anne Tolley is pushing to introduce a centralised database of offenders convicted of sex crimes against children. This would be managed by police and open to official agencies, such as Corrections, Housing and the Ministry of Social Development. There would be no public access.
The Sensible Sentencing Trust has rubbished that proposal, saying if offenders have been convicted in public courts, then the public has a right to access their names. The trust is upping its campaign for a completely open register, bringing broadcaster Derryn Hinch – who has been pushing for such a register in Australia – across the ditch for a public debate this weekend with Tyler and a victim, “Anne-Marie”. The trust has also renewed its efforts to get name suppression scrapped and plans to use an upcoming legal battle of its own as a catalyst for that. The trust is being sued by the Director of Human Rights Proceedings for listing a convicted paedophile on its database of offenders – despite holding documentation that trust chief executive Garth McVicar says states that no final name suppression is in place.
On name suppression, Tyler largely agrees with the trust, arguing that our laws around sub judice, contempt of court and protection of victims, as well as the strict limits on reporting around Youth Court and Family Court matters make name suppression superfluous. He believes that once they plead guilty or are convicted, offenders should all be named – unless doing so would identify or in some way further traumatise the victim. There is no name suppression law in the UK.
“As a law enforcement officer I firmly believe that if you’re a criminal, you need to be held to account. When you abuse against children, you definitely need to be held to account – there are consequences for those actions, and one of them is people knowing what you’ve done.”
But, Tyler tells the Listener, neither the Government nor the trust has got the register part right.
All the Government’s plan will achieve, he argues, is a condensation of various tightly guarded databases into one. That would streamline the flow of information and make it less likely that authorities will miss any important intelligence. But banning any public access and retaining our current name suppression laws mean it will still essentially operate as a “witness protection programme” for offenders. “A closed register will still have the police hands tied. It will still have the press gagged. And it will still have the public frustration. It doesn’t go far enough, at all.”
TOO FAR THE OTHER WAY
But he believes the trust’s stance, which would see Joe Public able to nosy through a list of names at any time, for any reason, goes too far the other way.
“An open register, I believe, would lead to mayhem somewhere down the line … I think it would lead to some cases of vigilantism, without a shadow of a doubt.”
So Tyler makes a case instead for a tried-and-tested middle ground.
Along with ditching name suppression laws, he wants New Zealand to introduce a legislated “disclosure mechanism”, as the UK did in 2011 with “Sarah’s Law”. Named after eight-year-old Sarah Payne, murdered by convicted paedophile Roy Whiting in 2000, the legislation allows anyone with concerns about a person who has access to children to ask police about that person’s background.
It is possible to make an inquiry about a stranger, although many of the nearly 600 requests made during the law’s year-long pilot scheme in 2008 came from parents checking up on an ex’s new partner. Others asked about neighbours or family friends.
Applications can be made on the phone, in person or by filling out a simple form. Child protection specialists carefully check these applications for risks to the child, regardless of whether the person (the boyfriend, say) the applicant is worried about has any history of offending.
As part of checking that history, authorities access the UK’s Violent and Sex Offender Register, a database set up 10 years ago that now holds details on more than 40,000 people. Some have convictions for sexual or violent offences, while others have clean records but have received police cautions or warnings or are thought to be at risk of offending. The register is closed to the public.
If there’s nothing on file about the boyfriend, police will tell the applicant there’s nothing to disclose. If there are red flags, a specialist team will carefully weigh the risks and benefits of giving that information to the child’s parent or guardian.
To do this, they feed all intelligence on the boyfriend through a “threat matrix”, gauging factors such as types of offending, access to children, any previous remorse or denial shown and any counselling and psychiatric reports available.
“Now, this isn’t perfect,” Tyler warns, “because even a low-risk sex offender can be low risk on what you know and potentially high risk the next day.” That is explained to all applicants, regardless of what other information they end up getting.
If the team does decide to disclose the boyfriend’s history, they first tell him what’s happening – partly to gauge any suicide risk. They then visit the child’s parent or guardian and read the information out loud, never leaving any written information behind, and making it crystal clear that if the parent breathes a word to anyone else, she risks prosecution herself. She is also asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
In his role at CEOP, Tyler was the one overseeing the flow of “intelligence” around this system.
He notes that only a small number of applications – at last count one in seven of the more than 5000 requests made to the end of 2013 – result in disclosures. In many other cases, police decide risk could be averted by taking some other action. For example, a mother might inquire about a neighbour who she says regularly loiters in a certain location. He does have a record, but police conclude he is a low risk to the child. They visit him and ask about the “loitering” that spooked the mother. He tells them he’s actually waiting to meet his probation officer. They ask him and the probation officer to change the location of their meetings.
The system works, Tyler says. And he’s adamant it would work here too.
Together with dropping our name suppression laws, “a considered disclosure mechanism based on intelligence and the need to know will help save children’s lives, and it will help save children from being sexually abused”.
DISCOVERY AS DETERRENT
Aside from getting information where it needs to be – helping parents protect their children – there are other upsides to such a system.
The chief fear of many child sex offenders is being found out. “They have huge bouts of guilt at times, and this fear acts and helps as a deterrent.”
So Tyler firmly believes dropping name suppression laws and introducing a disclosure mechanism would help stop people offending in the first place and prevent some online offenders escalating to real-world child abuse. “If you allow them a veil of secrecy, you take away that deterrent from them. And some of them want that deterrent, they want those boundaries in there.”
In the UK, Tyler adds, the legislation works as a window for offenders to access counselling or support if they need it. “A lot of offenders will know when they come out of prison that they need help. And going on the register is good for them because they can get that help – so there is some protection for the offender by having it in existence.”
In turn, it gives authorities a good starting point for surveillance. “A GPS tracker on the ankle will only do so much. Sometimes it has to be a pair of eyes.”
Further, he says, “the police would be able to do what they want to do – which is actually prevent crime. They’ve actually got their hands tied at the moment because they’re unable to do that.”
But those upsides surely apply to an open register too. So why not go for the full-on approach advocated by the trust? Maybe Tyler’s being politic, plumping for the disclosure mechanism because it’s more likely to get across the line.
Absolutely not, he insists. When he first made contact with the trust about a month ago and was asked to come on board as a spokesman, his sticking point was the vigilantism going on in the US – which has an open register.
“I said straight out to [trust CEO] Garth [McVicar], “I can’t help you on that because there’s evidence out there that clearly shows that innocents and even vigilantes have been killed as a result of an open register.”
Tyler acknowledges that vigilantism is a risk with or without a register: look at the recent case in Featherston, where 40-year-old disabled supermarket worker Glen Jones was savagely beaten by a group who believed he had raped their friend. Ambulance staff told court the side of Jones’s head felt like a broken eggshell. He died five hours after the attack.
But Tyler does not know of any such attacks directly linked to the UK’s disclosure mechanism. In fact, he believes the system could be helping prevent such attacks – by building public confidence in the police and taking the “sting” out of the frustration that can prompt mob action. “At the moment they’re thinking, ‘Well, the police can’t do anything, so we’d better go and do it. We’ll fill that gap for them.’ You will still have the people who go, ‘Oh, just throw ’em away, put them on an island’ – but at the moment they can’t see anything being done.”
But isn’t there something about human nature that would see some parents whose fears were confirmed go public with that information, regardless of the threat of legal action? “I think it all comes down to how the police handle it. [The parents will] be told in no uncertain terms that they will be arrested and charged.”
The pilot scheme did not identify any problems with vigilantism or people passing on confidential information. Don’t forget, Tyler adds, that under the system he’s proposing, offenders would also be given a heads-up before any disclosure is made.
Tolley has given another reason for avoiding any public register: there is good evidence, she says, that such a move would “drive offenders underground”. What does that even mean, asks Tyler? “It’s not as if there’s an alternative world somewhere that somebody is going to go and disappear.”
Further, those with a sexual tendency toward children are in many ways as “underground” as they can get. The biggest obstacle to anyone dealing with such people is that they are accomplished liars, Tyler says.
“The sex offender has arranged his entire life around manipulation, secrecy, hiding his actions. He arranges his whole daily life around that. Justifying his actions and living with that, every single day. He’s been lying his entire life from the point he started.”
Paedophiles have told him they first knew of their predilection when they hit puberty; the youngest offender his team dealt with was just 15.
Tyler points out that the introduction of registers overseas has not seen a rise in online offenders who are “in proxy – behind a server that can’t be traced”. That proportion is hovering at about one in five, he believes, and police have developed ways to track and identify such offenders regardless.
Perhaps Tolley means offenders would go missing in the real world and refuse to provide their details for the register, Tyler says. He counters: “Are you saying that in New Zealand the police are not capable of finding somebody?”
Some offenders, he notes, go into prison in denial and come out in denial, refusing to attend any counselling or co-operate with police. Some believe they have a right to continue abusing children. That’s why he insists a register must have teeth: give us your details on release or go back to prison.
Tyler’s central message for New Zealand is that to make a real dent in the “epidemic” of sexual abuse against children, we must set up a “one-stop shop” along the lines of the UK’s CEOP. Tyler says catching a paedophile requires the same skills and tactics as catching a terrorist and a similar holistic approach.
“Before I was on the paedophile team, I was on a mainstream national crime squad wing where our targets were the top 100 criminals of Great Britain. We used every single covert tactic available – we were all omnicompetent, so we did all our own surveillance, all our own covert telephone work, house bugs, secret recording.
“I used every single tactic against the worst criminals that Britain could muster, the most hardened criminal networks, against the paedophile … I can honestly tell you having everybody under one roof and under one agency is the only way to go, because you can tackle it from every single angle.”
Such an agency would be responsible for overseeing the disclosure system. Take one building, Tyler says, and fill it with about 70 staff, ranging from police and people running education and awareness programmes to IT experts from companies like Microsoft and Vodafone. You’d need a special undercover team with the nous and know-how to infiltrate online paedophile networks. And you’d need intelligence officers who specialise in child protection.
“They would be able to move quickly and effectively across the country and cut through red tape. It’s the red tape that fails the kids.”
He’s open to the idea of rehabilitation experts being on site too: “I think we need both sides of the argument.” But such experts must “come to the table and explain it [and] show it working. It’s got to be based on experience and what really happens and what really works.”
"IT'S BECAUSE I GOT IT WRONG"
All things considered, Tyler seems to have retained a remarkable degree of balance in the way he talks about offenders and the consideration he gives to their rights. Can he somehow separate the predilection from the person?
He hesitates. “It is very difficult.” He says his undercover officers have arrested men with catalogues of half a million images and videos “of nothing but babies”.
“Can I have any sympathy, can I draw any line, when a full-grown man wants to do that? No, I can’t. To me, it’s attempted murder, when they’ve got to take the nappy off to do it.”
Naturally, he does feel driven to understand what makes offenders tick: all the better for finding and prosecuting them. And if he sounds surprisingly rational, he says, “it’s because I got it wrong”.
He’s referring to a case in which an offender jumped off a bridge when police advised him they were executing a warrant at his home. Tyler wasn’t directly involved, but he did oversee the case.
Now, he says, “I need to see both sides, because I know that there’s lots and lots of pitfalls around it. I haven’t got empathy [for the offenders], because I went to bed that night and I didn’t have any nightmares. But I do get nightmares from the victims.”
When he first moved to New Zealand he was having terrible dreams every week. Now it’s “only a few a month” – which doesn’t sound like much of an improvement. But just as Tyler believes paedophilia is a lifelong condition, so he has found the mindset of a child protection specialist impossible to shake.
“You’ve got to understand it’s like joining the Mafia. You cannot really leave. You go to bed at night, you think, ‘Hang on a minute – there was that case …”
The trigger effect
Recent disclosures are likely to encourage more complaints.
The string of high-profile child abuse scandals in the United Kingdom will “open the floodgates” for other victims to come forward, Ian Tyler believes.
He emphasises that the majority of victims of child sex abusers don’t report the abuse, which means “the true extent of what’s going on is never really understood or known”. But victims often draw resolve from seeing high-profile entertainers such as Gary Glitter, Jimmy Savile, Ian Watkins and Rolf Harris held to account.
“They can clearly see that people have come forward with historical cases of sex abuse,” says Tyler, “and not only have the police taken them seriously, but the Crown Prosecution Services who prosecute these matters have taken them seriously, and they’ll take on high-profile individuals – and win.”
Tyler calls it a trigger effect. “It’s allowed some of those victims the confidence to say, ‘Well, okay, I could end up going to court here and I’m going to have to relive this nightmare – but I’m going to do it.’”
Many victims will report crimes totally unrelated to the celebrities in the news, coming forward about abuse by family members or friends.
But seeing their abusers convicted on other counts can also prompt more of their alleged victims to report abuse. MP Maggie Barry, who this month went public with allegations that Harris groped her during an interview in the 1980s, is one such example.
With more than a dozen women since telling Barry they too were abused by Harris, Tyler believes it’s likely the entertainer will face more charges. Last week the 84-year-old was handed a five-and-a-half-year sentence that could see him out of prison by the age of 88. He was convicted of 12 historic sexual assaults against four girls and women, ranging in age from seven to 19. On release he will be required to provide his details for the UK’s sex offender register.
Anonymous and confidential counselling and advice is available 24/7 through Lifeline, 0800 543 354; children under 14 can call Kidsline on 0800 54 37 54.
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