Jim Bates, once recognised as one of the country’s leading computer forensic experts, has made the extraordinary claim that senior police officers in Avon & Somerset and in the Met’s Child Exploitation Online Protection Team (CEOP) have deliberately stirred up and misled public opinion, in an effort to distract attention from a scandal that could soon engulf them.
In a statement to the Reg Bates says that he is now going public unwillingly, but that the level of misinformation being fed to the national media by Avon & Somerset Chief Constable Colin Port is so significant that he has little option but to provide some balance.
Bates expresses the view that despite a long and distinguished career as a witness for the prosecution, his growing concerns over the quality of police forensics work eventually led to his exclusion from the inner circle. This was followed by "intimidation and bullying by the police and some of their misguided supporters", leading eventually to his conviction for perjury in respect of his academic qualifications.
The current controversy hinges on the status of hard copy images and hard drives seized by Avon and Somerset Police in September 2008: last month a court ruled that the seizure had been illegal, and that the material should be returned, in part to Jim Bates, in part to independent experts.
This was followed by some very high profile media comment by the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset, to the effect that he would rather go to prison than hand the material over.
Bates now claims that he is "aware (and will prove) that those images had been "exhaustively" examined (unlawfully) by Avon and Somerset police in September 2008 and were identified as being within active and archived case".
Therefore, he goes on, Mr Port has either been "seriously misled by his own officers", or presented a misleading and "emotive story for public consumption".
Bates speculates that a number of elements are finally coming together. First, he observes that preliminary investigation of the drives relating to the case that sparked this train of events provided evidence that might have secured an acquittal: police actions (including their decision to apply for a warrant to a magistrate rather than a judge) disrupted his ability to present that evidence.
He also believes that these events finally link to fall-out from Operation Ore - perhaps the largest single operation by police against collectors of child porn in the UK - just as the likelihood of a class action against the police in respect of Ore cases nears the appeal courts. His view is that the investigation was hopelessly compromised by the presence of credit card fraud, and that a high proportion of the convictions were unduly influenced by a police tendency to interpret the evidence to fit their preconceptions.