Essex Police welcomed the Home Secretary to its headquarters as figures revealed it as the top force for dealing with online child abusers.

James Cleverly, who is also MP for Braintree, visited the force yesterday to speak with its sexual exploitations teams on the one-year anniversary of the national child sexual exploitation taskforce.

Following the visit in Chelmsford, Essex Police revealed its online investigation team carried out more than 600 arrests or suspect interviews for online child abuse offences and secured 424 charges – the most of any force anywhere in the UK.

Thurrock Gazette: Top force - Chief Constable BJ Harrington and James CleverlyTop force - Chief Constable BJ Harrington and James Cleverly (Image: Essex Police)

Mr Cleverly said: “Where a child is being abused, we must do everything in our power to protect them and pursue the perpetrators until they are behind bars.”  

“This despicable crime can have a lasting impact on a child’s life. In only a year, the taskforce’s hard work alongside local policing efforts has led to more than 550 arrests and helped keep thousands more children safe.

“I thank everyone that has been involved in this effort.”

The national taskforce was established in April 2023 to enhance the policing response to group-based child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Thurrock Gazette: Dedicated - James Cleverly at the Essex Police headquartersDedicated - James Cleverly at the Essex Police headquarters (Image: Essex Police)

Its aim is to increase the confidence of victims and survivors, and the wider public, in the police approach to tackling child sexual exploitation.

'Essex is no place to hide for those who abuse children'

On the taskforce, assistant chief constable Kevin Baldwin said: “We have worked with the taskforce on key investigations such as the prosecution of Jay Lang who was jailed for 21 years last September.

“Lang posed as a 16 year-old girl on social media apps, and abused and blackmailed dozens of children, some aged as young as 11.

“The proactive investigation team secured 46 charges against him and ensured he’s not able to pose a threat to children while behind bars.

“Historically, we have not experienced group-based sexual exploitation but we’re not complacent about this issue, and know there may be things that haven’t been reported to us.

“If you have any information about a child being sexually exploited – or you have been yourself – I would urge you to contact us. We will protect you.”

Thurrock Gazette: Meeting - James Cleverley speaking to Essex Police officersMeeting - James Cleverley speaking to Essex Police officers (Image: Essex Police)

In the last 12 months Essex Police's online investigation team team solved 92 percent of the 450 investigations they carried out.

The force has the third highest conviction rate for sexual offences which make it to court, while last year officers also safeguarded more than 2,500 children from sexual crimes.

ACC Baldwin said: “Nothing is more important than protecting our children from harm and dangerous, predatory offenders.

“Our [online investigation team] officers are prolific in doing that, arresting and charging more offenders than forces in some regions put together.

Thurrock Gazette: Welcome - James Cleverly shaking hands with Chief Constable BJ HarringtonWelcome - James Cleverly shaking hands with Chief Constable BJ Harrington (Image: Essex Police)

“They’ve achieved this by downloading, reviewing, and grading every image on every device they seize.

“The guidelines set out by the CPS state this isn’t necessary and a sample of images can be used to secure a charge but such is the diligence and dedication of our team, they insist on reviewing every image to ensure they identify any possible victims, so they are safeguarding, protected and offenders get locked up for as long as possible.

“This ensures they’re kept off the streets and our children are kept safe.

“And the team are trained to examine the devices themselves, speeding up investigation times, and progressing investigations quicker than most other forces.

“It means Essex is no place to hide for sexual offenders and those who abuse children.”