4 Oct 2010

Online child protection boss Jim Gamble quits

Senior Home Affairs Correspondent

The head of the UK’s online child protection agency steps down in a row over a proposed government merger, a move Channel 4 News learns could put children’s lives in danger.

Online child protection boss Jim Gamble quits (Getty)

Kate and Gerry McCann – the parents of the missing Madeleine McCann – have led a chorus of individuals and organisations who have expressed their regret at the departure of Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP).

The couple had worked closely with Mr Gamble and were said to be “very upset and disappointed” at his resignation.

“We are certain that he will be a huge loss to the field of child protection,” they said. “Knowing how committed Mr Gamble is to this cause, it is extremely saddening that he feels unable to continue leading CEOP, apparently as a consequence of the proposed governmental changes.”

“He will be a huge loss to the field of child protection.” Kate and Gerry McCann

Mr Gamble’s resignation followed concern over plans to incorporate CEOP into a new National Crime Agency. It is believed that Mr Gamble thought the move would take away CEOP’s independence.

CEOP is currently affiliated to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). It is believed that Mr Gamble was keen on gaining more independence for the agency rather than allowing it to become part of a greater agency.

'Children's lives at risk' 
Jim Gamble appears to have resigned in protest of the government's plans for a national crime squad, writes Home Affairs Correspondent Simon Israel.

A source told Channel 4 News that the government appears to have a business plan that will mean child protection becoming absorbed into a proposed national crime agency. The proposal is currently out for consultation.

Channel 4 News understands that the Home Secretary Theresa May has not responded to any letters from CEOP asking for clarification on its future. The agency costs £5m a year and says it saved the lives of 700 children last year. The source warned that children's lives will be put at risk if the government goes ahead and mergers CEOP into a much bigger national crime agency.

Sara Payne – the mother of the murdered schoolgirl, Sarah – said she was “disgusted” by the Government’s actions, while the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said it was in “firm support” of CEOP remaining as an independent agency.

‘Lack of consultation’

The former Labour Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, attacked the Government’s handling of the affair.

“Their lack of consultation has led to the resignation of Mr Gamble, who is highly respected within and outside of the organisation he served so well. His expertise will be badly missed,” he said.

In a statement CEOP said: “The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre does not feel that it is in the best interests of children and young people for CEOP to be assimilated into the National Crime Agency, as was announced a short while ago.

“This direction of travel does not seem to have changed and CEOP’s CEO, Jim Gamble, has therefore today offered his resignation to the Home Secretary with a four month notice period.”

But the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who accepted Mr Gamble’s resignation last night, defended the Govwernment’s plans.

“The Government recognises the importance of child protection and wants to build upon the work of CEOP, but does not necessarily feel this is best done by creating a new quango,” she said.