A guide to how indecent images are defined and categorised

Written 14th February 2022 by Hannah Poole

Whether an individual is suspect to being in possession, suggested to have made or has distributed an indecent or several indecent images of children, these images are categorised into a grading system which determines the gravity of how severe these images are suggested to be.  Offences such as these have become incredibly prevalent as of late.  Despite this, individuals arrested as a consequence of these types of investigations tend to have little understanding of the Criminal Justice System and may be naïve to the likely penalties they may face, possibly by way of a custodial sentence dependent on what the results of device analysis provide. An individual may be charged on the following; the possession of indecent images, should these images be accessible to the user or the individual who owns the device which holds these images.  Alternatively, the individual may face a charge of making and distributing the indecent images if they are inaccessible. Each case should be decided on the facts.  That being, once devices have been analysed, it is for an officer in the case to determine the decision which will be given to the grading and particular category of the material found.  The 1st April 2014, saw the Sentencing Council revise guidelines for all sexual offences including those concerning indecent images.

What are the categories of indecent images?

The images are to be simplified into one of three categories;
  • Category A – Images involving penetrative sexual activity, sexual activity with an animal or sadism
  • Category B – Images involving non-penetrative sexual activity
  • Category C – Indecent images not falling in categories A or B
In practice, the police will count and categorise these images, the officer supplying descriptions of specimen images taken from each category. Additional characteristics of the images are itemised in a non-exhaustive list of aggravating features set out within the guidelines which include:
  • Age/vulnerability of child depicted – this is to be given significant weight and where age is not clear, consideration must be given to whether the infant, pre-pubescent or post-pubescent
  • Discernible pain or distress suffered by the child depicted
  • Moving images
  • Child depicted known to the offender
  • Child depicted intoxicated or drugged
  • Large number of different victims

The Child Abuse Image Database (CAID)

In order to assist the police when compartmentalizing and grading the indecent images, The Child Abuse Image Database (CAID) was created.  CAID saves time and reduces the need for officers or prosecutors to view a large number of images and avoids excessive distress. CAID is a secure database of illegal images of children, it holds records of child abuse images which are known to UK law enforcement.  CAID uses software to review the file stored on any device which has been seized by the police, these are then compared against known data including keywords or meta-data. CAID processes the images using ‘hast tag’ values in the image meta-data. Typically, the image will have been graded by three police forces, it will then be stored by CAID as an approved grade.  Once this has been approved, there will be no need for the same image to be viewed again should the image arise in future investigations as the CAID grading can be adopted.  The images on the suspects decide will be compared with those stored on CAID.  Investigators should provide the prosecuting lawyer with a Streamlined Forensic Report which gives the total number of CAID recognised images in each category. In practice, it is highly common for images to be recovered from an individual’s device to be recovered in more than one category.  In these cases, defendants should be sentenced on a concurrent sentencing exercise with an upward adjustment being applied to the lead offence which is likely to be the highest category image. In cases which a defendant has been charged with possession of images in each category, this will attract custodial sentences.  However even in cases where more aggravating factors, with an early guilty plea, it is often possible to argue that the custodial sentence falls within the suspended sentence territory.

Specialist indecent image lawyers

Olliers’ team of specialist lawyers can assist you if you are under investigation for indecent images offences. We have many years of experience of dealing with allegations of indecent images and understand that for many individuals it may be their first involvement with the criminal justice system. We understand how daunting the situation may be for you. We promise not to judge and seek to work together to achieve the best outcome for you. We aim to explain the process and procedures to you in clear and unambiguous language whilst at the same understanding the anxiety you face at the situation ahead.
Hannah Poole

Hannah Poole



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