Review: Undercover Police: Hunting Paedophiles was enough to any parent nightmares about the online world

I sometimes catch myself thinking of the horrible things I’ve seen in my job as a journalist – traffic accident images, inquest evidence, lots of awful stuff – but then I watched Undercover Police: Hunting Paedophiles (Channel 4, Mon, 9pm).

Friday, 12th February 2021, 5:00 pm

This was a gruelling 90 minutes, as we followed undercover police officer ‘Simon’ engaging with, and eventually laying traps for, paedophiles on the internet.

At two steps removed from Simon’s work, this was still harrowing stuff, and it made you wonder how on earth he – and the other officers having to watch or listen to the horrendous abuse of children – manage to keep their balance.

Simon’s legend as an online predator is “a skin I put on”, he says, but how much scrubbing does it take to clean that skin off?

DC Michelle Marshall, of Kent Police, featured in a Channel 4 documentary

In fact, this documentary raised many such questions, with few easy answers.

How can internet companies get away with paedophiles swapping pictures and detailing abuse in chatrooms designed for children?

Would the men arrested in these operations have acted on their impulses without the encouragement of undercover officers?

What balance of punishment and treatment should these men receive?

As one officer says: “Why should I feel sorry for someone regularly viewing child porn and getting off on it?”

The biggest question it leaves you with, though, is the most frightening: Why am I so carefree about the way my children engage with people online?

I know they talk to their friends, and I try to police their online presence, but Undercover Police left me with the overwhelming desire to keep my kids in a totally analogue world.

More gruelling police work was on show in Forensics: The Real CSI (BBC2, Tues, 9pm). This time the title of the show was more glamourous than the work portrayed, and it didn’t grip as it should.

I didn’t think Marcella (ITV, Tues, 9pm) could get any more ludicrous, but what with stabbings, beatings, and throwings off balconies, this off-the-wall drama tries to top itself every week.