Police Federation

Struggling officer who viewed thousands of child abuse images a week in Hi-Tech Crime Unit role compensated after lack of force support

PFEW and Setfords secures pay out for resigned member who became too unwell to return to the service.

26 July 2023


In 2016 a member was posted to the Hi-Tech Crime Unit where his primary role was to investigate cases of child sexual exploitation which exposed the member to extreme imagery.

Over time his role grew substantially due to increases in data storage capacity, increased internet usage and speeds, and the rapid development of hardware devices.

It became a requirement to attend two mandatory welfare appointments per year, but these did not amount to appropriate health surveillance, and he was not seen on more than three occasions throughout his time in the ICAT.

After various roles and a related secondment, he was given a newly created role of Victim Identification (‘VID’) Single Point of Contact (‘SPOC’).   

He was ordered to assist with operational work despite this being outside the remit of his VID SPOC role. As a result of this, he began to fall behind his VID work.

He stated to his line manager that his existing role was a dedicated full-time position and expressed his concerns about his workload before a performance management meeting was held in which his case work and recording were criticised.

He was asked to increase his output, without any regard to the fact these investigation tasks were outside of his VID SPOC job description. At one point he was reviewing 35,000 – 50,000 images a week, eight hours a day.

On two occasions it was identified ICAT had not had any welfare checks for a significant amount of time and there were clear signs he and his colleagues were suffering.

Morale was particularly low in the department, with incidences of employees suffering from panic attacks on duty, and others becoming absent with stress or leaving the unit after they had recently joined.

He said if he had been asked about his wellbeing, he would have expressed how unwell he was becoming.

In 2018, he had a further performance review and was placed on a Development Improvement Plan in respect of tasks that formed no part of his role.

It was also confirmed the welfare meetings for ICAT were to become group sessions as opposed to individual consultations. If this had been discussed with him, he would have expressed how there had been no effective system of welfare supervision over the past twelve years and that group sessions were not a substitute for individual assessments.

Later that year he became emotionally overwhelmed because of his work and sought out a Police Federation representative. He was persuaded to visit his GP and was signed off work but was incapable of returning and resigned the following year.

Setfords were instructed in August 2020 to investigate a possible personal injury claim and in conjunction with PFEW undertook a large-scale Freedom of Information Act request to understand the industry standard for ensuring staff wellbeing for this line of work. 

The results showed whilst some forces had policies in place to protect staff from suffering injury after being exposed to vicarious trauma the majority do not, or do not follow their own guidance.

The ‘Guidance on Investigating Child Abuse and Safeguarding Children’ (Second Edition) (‘the NPIA Guidance’) published in 2009 by the National Policing Improvement Agency on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers specifically advises supervision control measures including:

  • The ethos in police forces towards the investigation of child abuse should reflect the central role of debriefing, supervision and support for people working in traumatic circumstances.


  • In order to fulfil the duty of care to employees and the requirements of health and safety legislation, those with supervision and management responsibilities in the CAIU should be concerned with the balance of work within the team, the welfare of individuals and the quality of their work.


  • Adequate opportunities should be given for officers to discuss concerns about cases which may affect their welfare. These opportunities can be provided by formal debriefings, meetings with the supervisor or through external supervision such as coaching development and pastoral support, according to local force policy.


  • Supervisors should closely monitor the workload of child abuse investigators. Consideration needs to be given to implementing mandatory and/or voluntary counselling and/or welfare support for all staff working in this field.


  • Supervisors should discuss any emerging difficulties encountered by their staff and provide advice regarding welfare services available within their force. They should also actively monitor those who undertake such investigations and offer support accordingly.


  • A record should be made of any request to be removed from the case, any reasons given and of the action taken by the supervisor.


The member argued that none or very little of the above guidance was followed by the force.

Before court proceedings were issued, the claim settled for a five-figure sum at a Joint Settlement Meeting. 

As with all personal injury claims pursued with PFEW, the member was able to keep 100 per cent of their damages.

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