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Detective speaks out on CSA work toll after winning PTSD case

The now retired detective has suffered from PTSD after prolonged exposure to child abuse images.

A retired detective has called for officers to speak out and ask for support following a successful trial.

The “landmark case”, which concluded in October, acknowledged the long term effects of prolonged exposure to child abuse images.

Retired detective John Cahill won substantial damages after successfully demonstrating that he suffered from a breach of duty.

Supported by the PFEW and Slater and Gordon’s Personal Injury Department, he argued that he received a lack of support, was exposed to prolonged exposure to imagery that is capable of causing psychiatric harm and, that had basic risk assessment procedure been correctly followed, opportunities to mitigate the stress, trauma and harm would not have been missed.

He has now spoken out, telling other officers not to suffer in silence.

Mr Cahill said: “PFEW listened to me when my superiors did not acknowledge my concerns; really, they closed ranks and just said, ‘suck it up and get on with it’. It was so disappointing; I’ll never forget those words. The potential consequences when dealing with an individual who may be suicidal are too terrifying to consider.”

John Cahill joined the police service in 1991. In 2014-15, he was asked to work on an investigation into the online grooming of a 12 year old girl.

His work involved investigating, reviewing and categorising child abuse images.

During the five day trial, the Judge described child abuse imagery as akin to “asbestos to the mind, once ingested these unthinkable images cannot be unseen”.

Mr Cahill would spend up to 32 hours a week looking at those images and videos.

He has since described ““a real lack of training at the sergeant’s level, not realising that the kind of stuff I was asked to deal with has a real impact, on your life and your mental health. I wish that they understood that mental health care is the most important thing when it comes to this type of work”.

At a family gathering in 2016, Mr Cahill said he was hit by a flood of grief and distress at an event with young children present – he has struggled to be around children since,

In 2017/18, he was asked to take over the casework of an officer who themselves became too distressed by the content of the case to continue. Mr Cahill managed the case pending a restructure.

Mr Cahill reached out to the Police Federation for support.

“PFEW were basically saying, ‘you’re not going to do this to this person’, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said.

“I would say to any officers out there, don’t suffer in silence, ask for support because it is there”.

The Judge in the case concluded that Mr Cahill should have been screened in 2015 and in 2017, while a failure to provide the required support was a clear “breach of duty”.

Forces are putting in different measures to mitigate the traumatic effects caused by officers' work. GMP are due to implement an automation tool which will help, to a certain extent, to reduce human exposure to indecent images, while Cambridgeshire have been expanding a structured review process initially established for their Protecting Vulnerable People department. 

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