Category Archives: Blog

Child pornography in just 20 minutes

Prime Minister David Cameron has declared war on internet paedophiles who use the ‘dark web’ to access images of child abuse. This reporter reveals the battle that lies ahead.

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One click – that is how close I came to entering what I imagine is the sickening world of child pornography.

I consider myself to have average computing skills. However, I decided to research the underground networks favoured by internet paedophiles to share illicit material.

Twenty minutes later and there it was. I found myself on a database on the Tor network that linked to hundreds of child abuse websites, forums and galleries.

The Protection of Children Act 1978 makes it illegal to make, possess or share indecent material. But the punishment is dependent on the severity of the crime; paedophiles can receive anything from a fine to ten years in prison.

Prison tends to be a tough place for child sex offenders with stories of disembowelments and strangulations by other inmates.

Even if they avoid prison, there is the shame of being named in the local or national press. Your face forever associated with a phrase that sends shivers down the spine: “child porn”.

‘Simple searches on Google’

This week, Prime Minister David Cameron held an internet summit where Google and Microsoft promised to crack down on searches associated with child abuse. Next up is the ‘dark web,’ used by hardened paedophiles.

But all it took was a few simple searches on Google and step-by-step guides helped me through the process of downloading and installing Tor, before accessing the ‘Hidden Wiki’.

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The Hidden Wiki helps users to navigate Tor, offering links to drug dealing websites, hackers and even collections of poetry. But it has another category: underage sex.

Just like that, it was done.

On the screen in front of me was a massive directory. Websites such as ‘Pedo Empire’, ‘Hurt 2 The Core’ and ‘Schweet Giggles Wiggles and Tickles’ were at my fingertips. A paedophile using the Hidden Wiki would have rubbed their hands together and dived in.

The sites were categorised according to the user’s “taste” and offered images and videos involving children across the globe.

But there was a surprising casualness about it all. Tutorials on how to set up your own site were being offered, as well as forums for viewers to discuss the quality of the material they had seen. Guides on how to correctly identify and approach paedophiles in the real world were also trumpeted.

However, these websites remain completely hidden to the average internet user. A typical search engine cannot access them because they are hidden deep within the Tor network.

Dr Steve Woodhead of the Internet Security Research Laboratory said the findings would “worry” the government and GCHQ (the British intelligence agency).

He said: “Although it takes twenty minutes of searching for someone with intermediate IT skills, there are probably even easier ways of doing it.

“Tor is quite hard to break but the police and security services have finite resources. They have to get the biggest bang for the buck and use what they have to take as much bad content off as they can.”

Dr Steve Woodhead: “the process of taking down sites is tricky”

He likened Tor to a postal service; if you send a letter to someone, you stick a stamp on the envelope so the receiver knows where it came from. But Tor removes the stamp and keeps a user’s anonymity.

Dr Woodhead continued: “When you lick an envelope, your DNA is on it. So analysing that DNA will show you who sent the letter. There are similar computing forensic techniques to identify which computer or individual sent the information.”

This is how Dr Woodhead foresees the battle between GCHQ and internet paedophiles playing out. The security services can already claim some successes, having already broken Tor and taken down material.

The FBI shut down the “criminal eBay” Silk Road in October, arresting its 29-year-old administrator Ross Ulbricht. But there are now reports that Silk Road is live again.

But is it possible that child pornography websites will simply reappear? “I would hope there is probably not a massive queue of people waiting to replace them,” says Dr Woodhead. “From a criminal point of view, it is a very high risk activity and the penalties are pretty severe.”

“But the money to be made from selling illicit drugs outweighs the risk of trading child pornography.”

But paedophiles are likely not swayed by money. They watch and share child pornography to feed their sordid addiction. To them, it’s just instinct.

Claire Lilley, the head of child safety at the NSPCC, said that they are prepared for a “long fight for the sake of foully abused children”.

She said: “We are pleased that the UK’s major search engines have committed to tackle those offenders who use the ‘open’ web to search for child abuse images.  However, this action is by no means a silver bullet.

“The ‘dark net’ is a murky world inhabited by the more dedicated sex offenders and will require a concerted effort to stop their vile trading.

“The internet industry need to use their phenomenal technological expertise to find solutions, and the police need enough resources to make major inroads to tackling offenders.”

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The UK should legalise and regulate ‘legal highs’

The UK should consider a well-regulated industry of synthetic drugs as a way of keeping users safe, according to one of the pioneers behind the ‘legal high’ industry.

Grant Hall, general manager of the STAR Trust, led the way in creating New Zealand’s ‘Psychoactive Substances Act’. It is the only legislation in the world that allows the manufacture and sale of “social tonics”.

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Grant Hall of the STAR Trust

Mr Hall said: “We also know that prohibition doesn’t reduce demand. It simply hands over control to organised crime networks who don’t do quality control, don’t check ID and don’t pay taxes.

“If the Government take control within a strictly regulated regime, as New Zealand has done, then we would expect far less harms overall.”

Since the Psychoactive Substances Act was signed into law in July 2013, Mr Hall says the industry has reduced the level of harm to drug takers while allowing “ethical” manufacturers to flourish.

He said: “All the experts confirm is that if we focus on dealing with drug use as a health and welfare issue, as opposed to a criminal justice issue, we will get better outcomes for society as a whole.”

In 2012, ‘legal highs’ caused 52 deaths – almost double the amount in 2011. It is claimed that a 20-year-old from Gravesend died last week after taking an unknown substance.

Mr Hall said of the victims: “Any harms from any drugs [legal or illegal] is always devastating to any family and this is part of the reason why we are so committed to harm minimisation, health and safety.

“Our position is that we should let the scientists decide, independent of the politicians, what is low risk and how best to manage the protocols to market.”

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Why Chatham and Aylesford will be one to watch in 2015

The constituency of Chatham and Aylesford in the South East is going to be one of the most interesting and hard-fought races in the 2015 general elections. It will be a contest between Tracey Crouch MP (Con) and Labour’s PPC, Tristan Osborne. I met with both candidates to discuss the race, their hopes for it and what they believe will be the main issues. These are the key factors in the race:

It has national significance

The constituency was created in 1995 and since then, its results have reflected national government. The area was a devout Labour seat under previous MP, Jonathan Shaw until 2010, when Tracey Crouch (Con) was elected. This is why Labour have targeted the area on its list of 106 “battleground seats” predicting that a Labour win in Chatham and Aylesford would give Ed Miliband a parliamentary majority of 60.

Tracey Crouch is more than aware of this, saying: “It’s really important for Labour to win seats in the South East. To be honest with you, if they want to get anywhere near national government, they are going to have to win seats like mine.”

The two candidates are not your usual suspects

Tracey Crouch has established herself as somewhat of a party rebel.  She was one of the 81 Conservative MPs who rebelled against David Cameron in a vote on an European Union referendum and has said she is a politician “who votes how she believes”. Outside of Parliament, she is a fully qualified football coach, who spends her Saturday mornings with her team, Meridian Girls.

On the other hand, Tristan Osborne commutes to London daily where he works in a small business. A former Special Constable in the Metropolitan Police, he says he is “a big believer in people coming into politics from the outside of the Westminster bubble.”

The candidates reflect a new generation of politics

The current age of an MP is 50. Tracey Crouch is 37-years-old whilst Tristan Osborne is just 30. And he believes he and Tracey’s age give them the edge when it comes to campaigning. He said: “I think that means both of us have a more campaigning and ground-based understanding that to win elections now, you can’t just to sitting in Westminster, talking about what you are doing.”

Both candidates are avid users of Twitter, run award-winning blogs (Tracey’s and Tristan’s) and are frequently out and about in the constituency, doing everything short of kissing babies. It is this approach that is making the race so unique; both candidates know that their constituents want to see and hear from them all the time, not just a few weeks before they go to the polls.

A variety of issues matter to the people

Both candidates unanimously agreed that the economy will be the biggest issue. The issue of jobs and business is a key factor in the area, built upon what Tracey says is “a constituency with a low to middle income group, self-employed, ‘white van man’ kind of aspirational class.”

But they also made it clear that other issues matter to the people of Chatham and Aylesford. One of the most polarising is the debate over the Thames Estuary airport. With firmer plans set to emerge in coming years, the candidates’ positions on an airport in the Estuary could play a major part in the campaign. Issues also mentioned include the NHS, education (Medway is among the lowest performing areas for primary schools in the entire country) and crime.

The constituency has a wide demographic

I was out with Tristan Osborne in the village of Burham, a small, rural community that one could mistake for Emmerdale. The main issue there was Kent County Council cuts to bus services. But Burham is just twenty minutes away from the heart of the centre of Chatham, a densely-populated, low-income area with higher levels of crime and anti-social behaviour. A voter on Luton Road will have slightly different priorities to the voter in Burham and it makes for a diverse range of opinions.

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Student media: no-one reads it but we provide a valuable service regardless

There is a bit of an argument raging at our Centre for Journalism and it is one that can be heard in student newsrooms across the country.

The Medwire, the independent student media outlet based in Medway, was not invited to attend an awards ceremony organised by Kent Union. The KiC Awards is being promoted as a “celebration of the successes of student media” and it is an issue that the Medwire team has taken to heart.

It is a polarising debate and both sides have perfectly valid points. The Medwire is not a member of Kent Union so why should they celebrate our work? Why should they pay for us to be recognised? One person likened it to “Coca-Cola going to the Pepsi awards”.  Others have said the Medwire is being all “up itself” about this. After all, it’s the first ceremony of its type; it is a purely cosmetic issue and one which does not grant us the power to be all high and mighty.

But we have to be “up ourselves” because we believe so strongly in what we do. One of the organisers said: “Of course, if the Medwire were to consider becoming a part of the union, we would welcome their participation in the awards.”

The Medwire is one of the last sources of independent student media in the UK. The majority of student media outlets are union-funded, operated by a team of union officers and volunteers. Across the country, horror stories are circulated about union censorship and newspapers/magazines being transformed into PR for the university.

We are “up ourselves” because we don’t do that. We are independent. We lock our reporters in a room for hours on end, bribing them with biscuits and alcohol in a bid to keep hitting the phones to secure a precious advertising deal, so we can have a website and a magazine for the next few months. One of our main advertisers, ironically, is the university. Does this make us hypocrites? No. Does it affect editorial content? No. We still get angry emails over stories that rightfully shame the university. They pay us a sum of money, because it makes good business sense to them and nothing more.

The Medwire is not the BBC. We are not even the Radston Times.  Our team often question why we do this in the first place. Is it a vanity project? No. We do this because we have to. It is our duty to the 10,000 people we serve in Medway, and further afield, to scrutinise the union, the university, the societies, the council or the cafe next door. And we do this in the same manner that the BBC would. We aim to be fair, accurate, honest and objective in our reporting, values imposed upon us by our Centre, whilst adhering to the same media law as the professionals do.

Our persistence has scored us some major successes, hitting the nationals on more than one occasion. We enjoy our freedom; it can be incredibly stressful and my role as deputy editor feels like it has swallowed my entire life (and that’s me, imagine our editor). We may have a small audience, but we grow everyday and provide a valuable service to those who have judged us worthy enough to bring news to them.

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Fast-track police proposals could threaten the force

jeromeIt was interesting to talk with Chief Superintendent Neil Jerome of Kent Police about the proposals to fast-track police recruits to higher positions – because the Chief raised a perfectly valid point.

He said: “Experiencing what it is like at three in the morning to be plodding the beat, when you are on your own, gave me a far better and greater understanding of the job. My credibility, to my officers and staff, going out doing what I am asking them to do, is so much more enhanced because they know that I have done it myself.”

In that statement, Chief Superintendent Jerome has pointed out what I personally believe to be the biggest flaw in these proposals (and they are just proposals at this point; scrutiny is to be expected). You can’t simply teach people how to be a police officer, in the same way you can teach a trainee lawyer or a doctor. Policing requires experience. It requires men and women who have been on the streets, interacting with people. And this takes time; it took Chief Superintendent Jerome 19 years to work his way up the ladder and he considers himself to be one of the quicker officers to do so.

Everyone at the bottom of the hierachy needs to be able to look up to their superiors and know that they have shared the same experiences. Confidence is key and taking orders from someone who has done it all themselves will do exactly that.

Police Minister Damien Green said to the BBC: “There is no organisation in the world that cannot get better and it must be the case that if you widen the pool of talent, then you will get even better policing in this country.”

This is also a valid point but it could create problems. Encouraging military personnel or university graduates to join the service could definitely bring a fresh approach to policing, but it risks creating a culture where policing becomes simply a career, a chance for recruits to hop up the ladder and get to those senior positions. Chief Superintendent Jerome said: “You don’t come into policing unless you fundamentally believe in some of the ancient traditions around policing in this country.” Those “traditions” set policing aside from many other sections of society and it is this traditions that we must uphold if we are to have a successful, passionate police force. These proposals have the potential to change that and for that reason, they must be considered again.

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