An Englishman serving time for assaulting a girl under age 13 has formally requested his laptop and cell phone be returned, and Dorset police say it would be “unlawful” to delete any photos of his victim from them.
The convicted pedophile, who was not identified by the British press, has photos of the girl wearing swimsuits and leotards on his computer and phone.
Police confiscated the items and found many photographs of the victim and her sister, but they say they can’t delete the images because they were not legally classified as indecent or prohibited.
“Furthermore it would be unlawful for police officers to alter the computer and phone’s memories by removing the disputed photographs before returning them,” Dorest police said in a statement.
The sex offender, who is in his 50s, is set to have the items returned to him when he is eventually released. The convict admitted to a string of sexual offences and was jailed in 2013.
"I am appalled that the man who abused my child can ask the police to hand over our family photos for him to keep for the rest of his life,” the victim’s mother told BBC News. "My daughters struggle every day with the devastating consequences of his abuse and this will only make them feel more humiliated and degraded.”
“Why should we continue to be traumatized further?” she asked. “Pictures of my daughters being returned to him is just not acceptable. They have both been through enough. It's an appalling situation. I have no idea how he plans to interact with these pictures.”
The families are being represented by the human rights group Liberty, which says the victim’s rights are at stake. Articles three and eight under the European Convention protect against inhuman treatment and invasion of privacy.
Liberty says the victim suffered “enormous psychological harm” and is now at risk of suicide.
“Not until the Human Rights Act could victims assert their rights in the British Courts - and Liberty is more than ready to do that on behalf of this family,” said Liberty legal officer Rosie Brighouse. “We urge the police to protect these victims’ dignity - it’s surely common sense that these vulnerable girls aren’t degraded further?”
Dorset police commissioner Martyn Underhill promised to fight the return of the items, although the legislation used to seize the phone and laptop requires the police to return them.
“It's totally and utterly wrong that the family should have been put in this position - or any other victim for that matter,” Underhill said. “I'll go to court before he gets his devices back with the pictures on them. We'll fight this tooth and nail.”
“I have spoken to the police, but I think they don't have a leg to stand on as far as the law is concerned. They have to give the property back,” he added. “This needs to be blocked legally first of all and then dealt with through a change in the law. It's a gaping legal loophole that must be closed.”