Family falsely accused of child porn over misreading of US-style date

Family goes through seven months of hell falsely accused of child porn charges after Spanish police misread US-style date in tip-off from American group

  • A Spanish family’s home was raided in a search for child abuse material 
  • The confused Madrid family knew nothing of why the search was taking place 
  • It later emerged that police were acting on a tip from a US-based organisation
  • The American said child abuse images were uploaded to Facebook on 10/11/16
  • Spanish investigators read it as November 10, which lead to the wrongful raid  

Spanish police wrongly raided the home of a family of four and subjected them to seven months of false accusations over child abuse images after misinterpreting a date – which was written in the American month-day-year format. 

Francisco R, 59, was the subject of a considerable police misunderstanding when officers rummaged through his home and confiscated his electronic devices in 2017.

None of Mr R’s family, from Madrid, knew what was taking place as authorities searched their cupboards and drawers while under supervision from an investigating court. 

The mother, Josefina R, demanded to know ‘what the hell is going on here?’ The court clerk then became impatient as hours went by with no evidence turning up, Spanish newspaper El Pais reports.  

Months later, the family discovered investigators had made a mistake with the dates on a child pornography alert from a US organisation, which used the country’s month-day-year date format.

The report had alerted police to a Spanish IP address that uploaded pornography on Facebook on 10/11/16 – October 11 in the American format. Spanish investigators read the date as November 10.

The family are now asking for €27,000 in compensation, suing the state for damages.  

Francisco R, 59, was the subject of a considerable police misunderstanding when officers rummaged through his home and confiscated his electronic devices in 2017 (pictured: Spanish local police, August 2020)

IP addresses can change every time a computer connects to the internet. The family in question did at one point have the IP address under suspicion, which was sent by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The investigating judge and Spanish prosecutors failed to notice the mistake.

All of the family members except for the eldest of two sons, Sergio, was at the home on the day of the search. 

A police officer had phoned at around 8am on November 23, 2017, warning that he and his colleagues would attend the home at 9.15am to show them some photographs – a ruse that two officers had earlier used to enter the premises. 

Josefina told them they would need a warrant if they wanted to enter. 

Four police officers plus a court clerk then arrived half an hour early on the day of the search and started analysing the mobile devices found at the home. 

The younger son, who was celebrating his 18th birthday, appeared to be scared while still in his pyjamas, reports say. 

His father says that police noticed the FC Barcelona posters in the teenager’s room and asked him: ‘So you’re a Barcelona fan, eh… So, are you also a separatist?’

Officers then asked about the older son, who was in Aranjuez. Police said they would go to meet him straight away – and the father demanded to come with them. 

Police then confiscated Sergio’s electronic devices in front of his work colleagues, and searched his car. 

Officers asked him:  So, Sergio, there’s nothing you’d like to tell us? It’s going to be worse for you later on…’

Four police officers plus a court clerk then arrived half an hour early on the day of the search and started analysing the mobile devices found at the home (stock image)

His father Francisco later said: ‘How do you explain, at a time like that, that the police is after you over child pornography? What do you tell your bosses? It doesn’t matter that you’re innocent: in the end, people think that if the police is here, it must be for a reason.’

He said that family members would then seem to look suspiciously at one another.

‘You ask yourself, what if someone, without meaning to, or whatever, did upload those videos… But I always felt that it had to be a mistake,’ Francisco said.  

All of the devices analysed revealed that none of the family had indecent images of children. 

The case was under seal and the family did not know precisely what they were accused of – though they know it involved child abuse images. 

When the seal was lifted, it was revealed that a complaint from the NCMEC had issued a complaint which was channeled to courts in Madrid through the US’ Spanish Embassy. 

The report said that a ‘user in Spain’ had uploaded three videos and an image depicting child abuse to social media site Facebook. 

Family lawyers discovered the error after finally acquiring court papers – which took considerable efforts after the case was shelved. 

A report by Spain’s legal watchdog, the General Council of the Judiciary, admits that a mistake was made which resulted in damage to the family, who should receive compensation. 

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