Around 60 children were subjected to footage of child sex abuse, while they were taking part in a fitness class on Zoom, on Tuesday 5 May. The Zoom call had been hacked by someone who streamed the video of the abuse into the session, in a practice known as ‘Zoombombing’. The class had been organised by a sports club in Plymouth and it is believe the hacker gained access as a result of the group’s login details having been published on public internet forums.

Devon and Cornwall police officers are working with Plymouth City Council’s social care team to identify all those who saw the footage, and may have been affected by seeing the images, so as to provide them with any advice or support, as required.

The local police force has also issued online advice as to how to keep video conferences secure from hackers [ www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/video-conferencing ]

The NSPCC says there is a worrying pattern of meetings held on Zoom being targeted with footage of child sexual abuse.  The charity is urging parents to supervise their children when using Zoom, and is strongly recommending that conference organisers take steps to secure log-on details and passwords.

Andy Burrows, the NSPCC’s head of child safety online policy, said:

There appears to be a deeply disturbing trend emerging. While the responsibility for this lies with those uploading this terrible footage, it’s important to take precautions to lessen the risks posed to children and adults, including not sharing full meeting details and passwords on social media and only providing them to people you trust.

“Zoom needs to urgently act to protect their users, while all tech firms providing video conferencing services must immediately set out how they are responding to these very real risks.”

A spokesperson for Zoom said:

This incident is truly devastating and appalling, and our user policies explicitly prohibit any obscene, indecent, illegal or violent activity or content on the platform….We encourage users to report any incidents of this kind either to Zoom so we can take appropriate action or directly to law enforcement authorities.”

Two further separate incidents,  an event held by a Prestwich-based wine shop, and a legal education seminar, were both “Zoombombed” with video footage of child sex abuse.  The group of wine tasters were said to have been left shocked and in tears when an online tasting event on 2nd May was hacked.  The shop owners tried to stop the videos from playing, but had to abandon the Zoom conference.

In an earlier incident in late April, a guest speaker at the legal education seminar said that “all the screens were overtaken by someone sharing abuse images….I’ve never seen anything like it – it was incredibly distressing”.

It is clear that people – and particularly children – may be significantly distressed where they have been subjected to images or video footage of child sexual abuse, or other extreme material. If such distress was to later manifest itself in the form of an actual psychiatric injury, there remains the possibility that claims for damages as a result of ‘Zoombombing’, and any lack of steps being taken to prevent such activities, may emerge in due course.


Written by James Chambers at BLM


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