CEOP child safety boss quits in row over merger

The boss of a UK online child protection agency has resigned in protest at Government cost-cutting plans that he says would threaten the group's independence.

Jim Gamble, the chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) quit over a decision to merge the agency with the National Crime Agency as part of Government plans to cut the number of quangos.

CEOP said in a statement last night: "The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre does not feel that it is in the best interests of children and young people for CEOP to be assimilated into the National Crime Agency, as was announced a short while ago.

"This direction of travel does not seem to have changed and CEOP's CEO, Jim Gamble, has therefore today offered his resignation to the Home Secretary with a four-month notice period."

CEOP was set up in 2006 to track online paedophiles and bring them to justice. The agency was responsible for the introduction of an online 'panic button' for children using social network Facebook.

The group is currently affiliated to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Jim Gamble is believed to have been lobbying to gain greater independence, and was worried that CEOP’s work would be marginalised if the body became part of a greater National Crime Agency.

Sara Payne, the child safety campaigner whose eight-year-old daughter Sarah was murdered in 2000 by paedophile Roy Whiting, expressed her dismay at the news in a joint statement with Shy Keenan and Fiona Crook, co-founders with her of the group The Phoenix Chief Advocates:

"This is the worst possible news and a devastating blow for UK child protection - Jim Gamble changed the face of child protection for the better, forever."

"We cannot begin to describe how disgusted we are with our own Government for betraying him and for betraying all of our children, this cannot be allowed to happen, we must stand up and fight, we must do what is right for the protection of our children against the crimes of paedophiles."

Shadow home secretary Alan Johnson joined the condemnation, saying: "The Government's plans will harm child safety networks and their lack of consultation has led to the resignation of Mr Gamble. His expertise will be badly missed."