LETTERS sent to adults suspected of exploiting children sexually – where there is not enough evidence for a prosecution – are already being issued by Wiltshire Police.

Neighbouring force Hampshire Police was in the news this week for sending  54 letters to people suspected of the offence but against whom there is insufficient evidence to bring a case. The letters urge the individuals to think about their behaviour and not to take advantage of anyone who may be vulnerable for any other reason.

Wiltshire Police use their own very similar letter, and a spokesman said it was common practice across most, if not all, police forces.  In the last four years three letters have been issued.

The measures have been criticised as both having no effect and also possibly criminalising the innocent.

But both Wiltshire Police and Angus Macpherson, the Police and Crime Commissioner in political control said defended their use.

Mr Macpherson said: “I have confidence in the officers involved in child protection work to investigate fully any intelligence received which points to the possibility of child sexual exploitation.

“Their priority is to safeguard children and gather the evidence to bring suspects before the courts. There may be occasions when concerns have been raised but no evidence exists of any offence having been committed. In such circumstances, officers in a number of forces, including Wiltshire, may choose to hand such a letter to a person of concern.

“The letter serves as a warning that police have concerns and that further contact with the child may leave the adult liable to arrest and prosecution. It has the additional benefit of preventing the adult from claiming that they were unaware of the law around child sexual exploitation, or that their behaviour was an innocent mistake.

“It would be quite wrong to characterise the use of such letters as ‘lazy policing’. There is every likelihood that officers will continue to monitor that person’s behaviour.

He said the danger of such a person, innocent in law, in receipt of a letter being stigmatised if it became known – such as background checks by employers – was small:”As far as concerns about the existence of such a warning letter being revealed in a Disclosure and Barring Service check by an employer, discretion is always exercised by police over whether a particular piece of intelligence remains relevant. If the intelligence is relevant, it will be disclosed, whether or not a letter has been sent.”

The head of Public Protection at Wiltshire Police Superintendent Deb Smith said officers would use all tools available to protect children: “Our main priority is protecting children and we are committed to using all the tools at our disposal to prevent child sexual exploitation offences being committed and bringing perpetrators to justice.

“Obviously, we always fully investigate reports and concerns which are raised to police and, where possible, we aim to collect enough evidence to bring charges against those suspected of child abuse.

“These can be very complex cases, where either victims are unwilling to support a prosecution or it is difficult to reach the necessary threshold to charge someone with an offence.

“In these circumstances it can be helpful and effective to use ancillary measures, including non-criminal orders such as cease and desist letters to those who are suspected of behaviour which could be classed as child sexual exploitation.

“These letters are only sent out after intelligence work has taken place by police officers and can be the first measure used as part of our enquiries.

“Sometimes these letters are successful in educating people about the law, acting as a deterrent and ultimately preventing offences being committed. In other cases they end up forming part of a wider investigation which may lead to a criminal prosecution.

“These letters are never sent in isolation. They always form part of a much wider police investigation, with officers continuously assessing any ongoing concerns or possible offences.”