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Paedophile gets his censored laptop
Police will remove images of a self-confessed paedophile's young victim from his laptop before returning it to his prison.
The man, who was jailed for nine years last year after admitting a string of sex offences, including assaulting a child under the age of 13 by penetration, formally requested a laptop and a mobile telephone be handed back, according to Liberty, which represents the young victim and her family.
Photos of the victim dressed in swimwear and leotards were on the computer - but Dorset Police said they could not delete them as they were not legally classified as indecent or prohibited.
As a result, the sex offender, who is in his fifties but cannot be named to protect the identity of his victim, would have been able to access a large number of personal photos of the girl when freed from jail.
But following legal advice, Dorset Police has announced that it will delete the victim's images from the laptop and other electronic equipment before returning the items to his jail, to be held until his release.
Detective Inspector Steve Symms, of Bournemouth CID, said: "From the start we have been exploring all of the options available to us to refuse the return of the images.
"As we said we would, we have sought legal advice regarding this issue.
"We have decided to delete the images of the victim from the laptop and other equipment before returning these items to the prison, to be held until the offender's release.
"The legislation hasn't changed. However, following legal advice, the force is confident that taking this course of action is the right thing to do.
"We will always make victims' needs paramount and are prepared to defend our decision if necessary, rather than further exacerbate their suffering."
Dorset Police said the equipment was seized in the initial stages of the inquiry, but was not used as evidence at court as it contained no indecent images or other evidence of crimes.
A force spokesman said that in such cases current laws dictate that the police should return the equipment to its owner in its original condition.
Following the decision to remove the images, Dorset police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill said "common sense has prevailed" in the case.
He said: "Both the chief constable and I share the view that victims must be put first.
"I will continue to lobby for change in this area and I encourage members of the public to sign the Government e-petition that calls for the legislation to be re-considered."
Liberty had written to Dorset Police stating that returning the pictures would violate the family's right to respect for their private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The victim's mother said: "The retention of these photos would have had a lifelong impact and impeded my children's already difficult road to recovery.
"I am extremely grateful to Liberty for taking on this cause and giving my daughters a voice. We are so relieved this part of our nightmare is over and that we don't have to go through long and arduous court proceedings.
"The Human Rights Act has given us vital protection in this case, without which the consequences were unthinkable for us as a family."
Rosie Brighouse, legal officer for Liberty, said that "at last the police have seen sense". She added: " Yet again the vital protections of our Human Rights Act come to the aid of innocent victims, protecting their dignity and preventing unnecessary suffering."
David Tucker, associate head of policy at the NSPCC, said: "We are pleased to see that Dorset Police have let common sense prevail.
"The needs and wishes of victims should always come first and it would have been an outrage if someone convicted of abusing a child was allowed to keep images of the young victim.
"The prospect of him still having these photos understandably horrified this girl and her family so the NSPCC supports the force in reconsidering their approach.
"We would urge the Government to take an urgent look to see if changes in legislation are necessary in order for the police to protect children from the unnecessary ordeal the child involved in this case has gone through to get peace of mind.
"Overall, the system is weighted against the victim and in favour of the offender and it is vital children who have suffered terrible experiences feel supported during investigations, throughout the court process and beyond."