Calls for tougher action against paedophiles as eight in 10 found with indecent images of children avoid jail

13 December 2023, 17:54 | Updated: 14 December 2023, 12:30

Calls for tougher action agains paedophiles have been made
Calls for tougher action agains paedophiles have been made. Picture: Alamy
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

The head of the National Crime Agency has called for more paedophiles found with indecent images of children to be jailed, revealing 80% of those convicted are spared custodial sentences.

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Director General Graeme Biggar told reporters he found it "striking" that so many predators who view child sexual abuse material do not go to prison, and that locking them up was necessary to "get them off the streets and stop the offending".

Mr Biggar said it's rare that offenders are caught with a handful of images and videos, explaining that they're often in the thousands, with many of those depicting the worst kind of abuse imaginable.

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It came as he urged the Home Office to introduce new laws aimed at jailing the creators of dark-web platforms which host the material.

Speaking alongside Mr Biggar, Director General of Operations Rob Jones criticised the "false idea" that the offenders are "just viewing" child sex abuse images, saying it's highly likely they are committing physical contact offences.

Mr Jones said: "These platforms are very secure, and for some, they won't let you in unless you provide a new child abuse image. This means a child could be abused purely so someone can access one of these sites".

He claimed the online world is "underplayed" within the criminal justice system, saying it and the real world are now "one continuum - it's all one world for victims and survivors".

Director General Biggar acknowledged that the UK's prisons are "pretty full to capacity", but said the debate about which offenders should be incarcerated or allowed to serve suspended sentences should be had away from the sphere of child sexual abuse.

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Figures from the Ministry of Justice show 2,087 people were convicted of taking, distributing, publishing or possessing indecent or prohibited images of children in 2022. Of these 29% (609) received a custodial sentence.

The NCA has been lobbying the Home Office to create a new offence of running a child sexual abuse website, so the people "at the heart" of the system can be jailed for longer.

Mr Biggar and Mr Jones expressed their frustration that those facilitating the platforms and "creating misery" for children "aren't getting the sentence they deserve".

It is possible to convict website moderators for possessing and sharing indecent images, but the NCA said a more specific crime written in to law would allow them to catch offenders more easily and ensure they face longer jail terms.

The NCA estimates there are between 680,000-830,000 adults in the UK that pose some degree of sexual risk to children. This is equivalent to 1.3%-1.6% of the UK adult population.

A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling all forms of child sexual abuse. “The police’s response to child sexual abuse has been strengthened with targeted investment and activity to bring offenders to justice which has led to an estimated 1,000 children safeguarded or protected every month.

“We have also increased sentences for sexual offenders, whilst continuously reviewing sentencing outcomes to ensure we are doing all we can to protect children from this vile abuse.”

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