Metropolitan police chief, Supt Robyn Williams, was found guilty of possessing indecent images on her phone after she received an unsolicited WhatsApp message that included a video of child sexual abuse. The jury at the Old Bailey heard how Williams was attending a gym class when she was sent the video by her sister, who wanted the person who made the video caught by police and charged.
The case raises interesting issues around the possession of indecent images and how the intentions of the person holding the material are relevant to the case. Williams was sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work. However, her lawyers are considering an appeal.
What is the law on indecent images?
The law on indecent images is set out in the Protection of Children Act 1978, which strictly prohibits taking, making, sharing and possession of indecent images of anyone under the age of 18. ‘Making’ an indecent image includes opening, accessing, downloading or storing digital content. If convicted of an offence, the maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment.
In this case, it was up to Williams’ defence team to prove that she had a legitimate reason to hold the material, had not viewed it and did not have reason to believe it contained indecent material.
The jury rejected the argument put forward by the prosecutor that Williams had seen the thumbnail of the video and was, as a result, aware it was an indecent image. Williams maintained throughout the case she had not seen the thumbnail, and the jury accepted that she had never played the minute-long video.
The prosecution argued that Williams was lying about the situation to protect her sister, a co-defendant in the case. Her sister, who sent the video to 17 people via WhatsApp, was convicted of distributing an indecent image of a child. After sending the video, she sent the message:
“Sorry had to send this it’s so sad that this person would put this out, please post this and let’s hope he gets life.”
Williams opened WhatsApp 40 minutes after receiving it. The prosecutor alleged that it would have been immediately apparent that it was an indecent video of a child. The video was reported by another person who was sent the footage by Williams’ sister, which resulted in an investigation into who possessed the image.
Prosecutor, Richard Wright QC, when opening the case, made clear to the court that the defendants in the case had no sexual interest in the images:
“Each of them made serious errors of judgment about how to handle this video and in dealing with it as they did, each of them has committed serious criminal offences.”
The law on indecent images is strict. If you have been charged with possession or distribution of an indecent image, get in contact with our specialist criminal defence team today.
Contact Our Indecent Images Defence Lawyers, London