March 04, 2005
Internet child porn offences rise fourfold
Friday March 4, 2005 - David Batty and agencies
The number of people arrested and convicted for downloading child abuse images from the internet has more than quadrupled in the last two years, a children's charity revealed today.
Home Office figures obtained by the charity NCH showed 2,234 people were cautioned or charged with online child abuse offences in England and Wales in 2003, compared with 549 in 2001 - a rise of 307%
The charity, together with the Association of Chief Police Officers, today called on the government to establish a new body - dubbed the UK Internet Safety Centre - to investigate online child abuse.
The agency, first proposed last year by the children's charity Barnardo's, would be staffed by police, child protection experts and computer analysts.
NCH internet safety adviser John Carr said: "There is now widespread agreement about the need for a new, high-powered national centre to tackle internet crimes against children.
"The only thing there is not yet an agreement about is who should pay for it. We hope ministers can resolve this very soon. What NCH says is that we want a new national centre - and we want it now."
NCH noted that the number of people cautioned or charged in 2003 was 64 times greater than the 35 recorded in 1998 - the first year these offences were recorded. Between 2002 and 2003, the number of offences rose by 157%.
A report by the government's police watchdog warned this week that the increasing amount of time individual police forces were spending on internet paedophilia investigations was sometimes to the detriment of other types of child protection. The Inspector of Constabulary for England and Wales added that child protection officers lacked sufficient training and resources to tackle online child abuse offences.
Mr Carr put the huge rise in the number of arrests and convictions down to Operation Ore, the police investigation set up to track down people who paid to download child abuse images from a website based in Texas.
The investigation was launched after the Federal Bureau of Investigation supplied UK police with the credit card details of 6,500 Britons who accessed the US pay-per-view Landslide website to download child abuse images.
Mr Carr said: "These new and astonishing numbers reflect the arrests made during Operation Ore. But given on-going police activity, the worry is that they represent not a blip but a new 'normality'. Many police admit that they are still only touching the tip of a very ugly iceberg."
NCH also called on internet service providers (ISPs) to follow British Telecom (BT) and Vodafone in blocking their subscribers from accessing known child pornography websites.
The charity will be asking the home secretary, Charles Clarke, to investigate how many UK-based ISPs have yet to block access.
Mr Carr said: "Child pornography on the internet is a modern curse and ISPs have a critical part to play in stamping it out. BT and Vodafone showed the way. We want everyone else to follow or, I am afraid, legislation compelling them to do so will be inevitable."
BT, Britain's largest high-speed internet provider, last year announced that it was blocking 23,000 attempts to access child abuse websites every day.
Posted by Nancy at March 4, 2005 12:08 AM