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Met chief: Police should have access to social media evidence ‘within minutes’

The mother of schoolgirl Lucy McHugh has urged Facebook to give police access to an account belonging to a man held on suspicion of murder.

Britain’s most senior police officer has said investigators should have access to social media accounts “within minutes”.

Scotland Yard chief Cressida Dick told LBC that police are often either blocked from getting vital evidence or forced to go through “a very protracted procedure” to obtain information from social media companies.

Her comments came after the mother of schoolgirl Lucy McHugh urged Facebook to give police access to an account belonging to a man held on suspicion of murder.

Stacey White said detectives could uncover information vital to their investigation if they are allowed to read messages sent and received by Stephen Nicholson before the 13-year-old’s death.

In situations like this, Facebook really should just release the information that is needed Stacey White, Lucy McHugh's mother

The care worker, 24, was jailed for 14 months on Friday over his refusal to hand over the password to his account.

Investigators face having to take lengthy legal action in the US in order to obtain access, with the delay branded “deeply disturbing” by the head of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee.

Ms White has said unlocking the account would “certainly give police an idea of what was being said between Lucy and Stephen”.

“In situations like this, Facebook really should just release the information that is needed and I think that is the opinion that everybody has,” she told the Daily Mail.

“They should give over the account details. Lucy needs justice. It’s so easy for them to do.”

Asked about the case during a radio phone-in with Nick Ferrari on Tuesday, Ms Dick agreed that police should be given access to vital information “within minutes”.

I absolutely think that in certain instances, and it sounds to me like this is one, law enforcement in the UK ought to be able to have vital evidence which might bring somebody to justice Cressida Dick

She said: “I haven’t followed this in detail but it is not the first time, however, that a police service in the UK or overseas has approached a social media company looking for evidence and had to either go through a very protracted procedure or has found it’s impossible to do so.

“I absolutely think that in certain instances, and it sounds to me like this is one, law enforcement in the UK ought to be able to have vital evidence which might bring somebody to justice.”

Nicholson, a father of one, was staying at Lucy’s family home in Southampton until several days before she was found stabbed to death in woodland on July 26.

According to prosecutors, he had contact with the teenager as recently as the morning of her disappearance.

While being questioned on suspicion of murder and sexual activity with a child, he twice refused to give detectives his Facebook password.

For there to be such long delays and cumbersome international processes for getting crucial information in such a serious case is deeply disturbing Yvette Cooper, Home Affairs Select Committee

Nicholson pleaded guilty to a charge under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) before his sentencing at Southampton Crown Court.

The court heard his excuse for refusing access was to protect himself and his family as there was information relating to cannabis on the account.

Prosecutors said police were facing a “lengthy procedure” in order to obtain access and the investigation into Lucy’s death had been “considerably obstructed” as a result.

Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, called on the Government and Facebook to create a fast legal procedure for such cases.

“This was an appalling murder, and Lucy McHugh’s family need justice,” she told the Mail.

“For there to be such long delays and cumbersome international processes for getting crucial information in such a serious case is deeply disturbing.”

Facebook told the paper it was “co-operating with Hampshire Police”.

We are working closely with law enforcement and there are well-established legal mechanisms that the police follow to obtain information in criminal investigations like this Facebook

Nicholson remains on bail for his arrest on suspicion of murder and sexual activity with a child.

A charging decision is anticipated on October 27.

A Facebook spokeswoman said: “This is a terrible case and our hearts go out to the family of Lucy McHugh.

“We are working closely with law enforcement and there are well-established legal mechanisms that the police follow to obtain information in criminal investigations like this.”

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