'You can change someone's world for the better': Senior cop on safeguarding abuse victims

Detective Superintendent John Carroll

Detective Superintendent John Carroll, East Area BCU's head of public protection. - Credit: Met Police

In the latest of our features with senior figures in the East Area command, reporter Michael Cox talks to Detective Superintendent John Carroll on educating youngsters about online dangers, gaining the trust of abuse victims and working through Christmas...

As head of the public protection strand across Havering, Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham, Det Supt John Carroll is responsible for the oversight and investigation of sexual offences and child abuse, as well as overseeing domestic abuse cases.

He took up the role in April after previously working at Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, and earlier in his 22-year police career, he was in charge of the Met's paedophile investigation unit.

For him, helping to end an abusive situation is what makes his work worthwhile.

"Within public protection and this area of work, you accept that you are not going to change the world, but you can change someone's world in quite profound ways and for the better."

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His department works with partners such as local authorities to make plans to protect children and adults at risk.

Officers also liaise with schools to educate children on how to safely navigate online spaces.

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Det Supt Carroll said: "One of the things we have found is that it's important to make sure that the messaging is credible to them and that we understand what their daily lives involve."

The senior officer revealed he is trying to "deprofessionalise" some of the safeguarding methods and use young people's views to shape their services.

But he felt that police need to inform them of the potential consequences of things "they think nothing of".

Det Supt Carroll recalled how a group of male school students said that taking and sharing naked photos of themselves was a "digital handshake".

"When we talk to boys and girls about sending those sorts of pictures, it is being honest about the potential consequences of that.

"But also not make them so frightened that they think 'this is always going to follow me around on the internet' and making sure that we signpost them into the correct services that they can get content taken down quite easily."

His team also investigate online abusers and the trading of indecent images of children.

Det Supt Carroll felt that there is "significant" availability of such photos on the internet and that criminals get false assurance that they are not going to be caught.

"Now if you've got sufficient digital wherewithal, a VPN or encrypted message forums, it is much easier to engage in that kind of behaviour and for those suspects to feel they are beyond detection.

"Our ability to forensically interrogate digital material in a timely way has had to develop very quickly."

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone's lives and Det Supt Carroll said his department has had to change the way it operates, with partnership teams working remotely.

He felt this had allowed police to work more flexibly across the three boroughs but admitted that it had made it more difficult to engage with victims.

When supporting those who have suffered abuse, he said his teams must consider whether chasing a prosecution is the right course of action.

"There is a lot of reflection and focus on abuse survivor-centred decision making to ensure that we maintain that sensitivity, that focus on prioritising them and their needs.

"That often requires a lot of time, conversation and making sure you build up a level of trust and confidence where the survivors that we work with feel empowered to make the right decisions for them."

Despite falls during the pandemic across many crime types in the East Area, domestic abuse cases have risen.

Det Supt Carroll felt that factors such as people being at home during lockdown, rising alcohol sales, and people not being at work contributed to the increase.

"When domestic abuse occurs, it's shocking, it's brutal and there is that response by victims often to seek out the police which may not be the case with other types of abuse or vulnerability."

The nature of his department's work means officers have to deal with the most harrowing abuse cases.

Det Supt Carroll said there is an employee support programme in place for officers.

"Historically there's been this idea that it's what we do, we'll muscle through but I think we've realised that actually it's OK not to be OK."

Although many people's Christmases will not be the traditional family celebrations this year, it is normal for emergency services staff to have to work throughout the festive period.

But Det Supt Carroll said officers don't resent this.

"We all know what we sign up for. I will admit that, on Christmas Day, there are quite a few boxes of Quality Street and Roses about the station but we are out doing the work we need to and that won't change."

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