Can the police make use of undercover officers to expose sexual offenders?

Can the police make use of undercover officers to expose sexual offenders?

In this article, David Osborne discusses the methods used by police to catch online sexual predators and considers whether an offence can be committed by someone who is planning the impossible.  

The anonymity of the web can work both ways

The internet has long been used by sexual offenders to remain anonymous. Increasingly the police are using the same tactic to identify and investigate offenders.

Whilst defendants will occasionally pose as younger people online, the police are doing likewise to catch them. This begs a question: If a defendant tries to arrange a meeting for a sexual person a) with someone who is not in fact a child and b) would never actually meet them, do they commit an offence?

S.14 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 establishes the offence of arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence:

S.14Arranging or facilitating commission of a child sex offence

(1)A person commits an offence if—

(a)he intentionally arranges or facilitates something that he intends to do, intends another person to do, or believes that another person will do, in any part of the world, and

(b)doing it will involve the commission of an offence under any of sections 9 to 13.

(2)A person does not commit an offence under this section if—

(a)he arranges or facilitates something that he believes another person will do, but that he does not intend to do or intend another person to do, and

(b)any offence within subsection (1)(b) would be an offence against a child for whose protection he acts.

What type of behaviour does s14 catch? 

The section makes it an offence to arrange (or facilitate) the commission of an offence under sections 9-13 (sexual activity with a child etc). It catches a range of preparatory conduct which would not otherwise be criminal:

Whether it is sexual conduct for himself or another.

Wherever in the world the sex is to take place.

Note that the offence is committed if the defendant intentionally arranges… something that he intends to do, intends another person to do, or believes that another person will do, in any part of the world…

It follows that it does not matter that there is no child or that (the officer) would not turn up. The question is: Was the arrangement intentional and did the defendant intend to commit the act?

Running a conviction risk for planning the impossible? 

Those who disguise themselves online obviously run the risk that the person they are communicating with is doing likewise. There is bound to be a clear trail from offender to police officer and the legislation allows for a prosecution even where the defendant would never have been able to carry the conduct out.

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