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Van will help police deal with suspected material quickly.

IT looks like an ordinary van - but this vehicle could transform how people caught suspected of having images of child abuse are investigated.

The sickening pictures and videos of abuse which circulate online have led to countless convictions on Teesside.

They have also put a strain on police resources as officers attempt to cope with large numbers of phones and computers which need assessing.

But now Cleveland Police's latest tool is a van that can vet seized devices on the streets.

It means the time taken to snare a suspected paedophile could be dramatically cut.

The unit - containing specially trained officers - is to hit Teesside with the aim of parking outside of suspected paedophiles' homes that have been raided and sifting through devices that potentially contain child sex abuse images.

The van is the first in the north of England and houses two computer units.

Digital forensic unit examiners will be able to look at each piece of equipment as it is confiscated from the property and quickly establish whether it contains inappropriate material.

The examiners - who are psychologically assessed regularly to make sure they can continue coping with viewing horrific images - can then quickly assess whether it will be seized or given back to the suspect.

Detective Inspector Steve Bell said that it is expected the van will be used at least two to three times a week once it begins operation.

He said: "At present once a warrant is executed, we can take around 40 devices, including computers, telephones, memory cards, games stations and even TVs which need to be booked into the system once they have been seized. The mobile unit will enable us to quickly identify the devices immediately for suspected criminal material and will mean that what presently can take weeks to trawl through once protocols for booking in each device is followed, can be dealt with immediately."

The unit consists of two detective sergeants, two police staff investigators and 10 detectives.

This month alone the team has received 15 new packages. One of those current packages has up to 80 other suspects attached, so each inquiry can often be prolonged with some extending into other countries where officers have established links to their counterparts.

Last year the team dealt with 156 new investigations and 90 arrests were made, 122 crimes were detected with 37 people voluntarily attended police offices and 37 suspects currently on bail. In total, 202 children have been safeguarded and on average - two children are safeguarded per suspect. The unit applies for a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO) on every person charged.

When devices are seized the images are graded and over the last 12 months the unit has graded over 300 devices containing millions of images.

Currently there are 110 live investigations within the unit.

The mobile unit will enable us to quickly identify the devices for suspected criminal material. Det Insp Steve Bell

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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jun 3, 2017
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