Police and children's charities yesterday called on the government to set up a national centre to investigate computer child porn as it was revealed that the number of internet paedophiles arrested had quadrupled in two years.
Latest statistics from the Home Office showed that 2,234 people were cautioned or charged with such offences in England and Wales in 2003, compared with 549 in 2001.
John Carr, Internet safety adviser for NCH, the charity formerly known as National Children's Homes, said he feared the figures were not exceptional.
"Child pornography on the internet is a modern curse," said Mr Carr. "These astonishing figures reflect the arrests made during Operation Ore. But, given ongoing police activity, the worry is they represent not a blip but a new normality.
"Many police admit they are only touching the tip of a very ugly iceberg. The Internet provides a path for people to go down, a route they may never have taken before."
Operation Ore was set up when FBI agents passed on to police forces worldwide the credit card details of 250,000 people suspected of using a Texas-based Web portal to access child abuse sites.
Of the 7,250 people traced to the UK, British police have arrested more than 3,500 and charged almost 2,000.
British Telecom records 60,000 attempts a day to access child porn Websites, while detectives catch 300 paedophiles a month by logging their details when they try to access a fake Website.
The National Crime Squad is part of a global virtual taskforce which also includes the FBI, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Interpol. Its members patrol Internet chatrooms to try to protect children from paedophiles.
Jim Gamble, the National Crime Squad deputy director, said: "We are raising awareness that we are out there and that the Internet is not a lawless place."
But a constabulary inspectorate report this week found police forces in England and Wales were spending a lot of time investigating Internet child porn while lacking training and resources.
Mr Carr also urged Internet service providers to do more to protect children. "BT alone is blocking 60,000 hits a day and that's just one ISP. There are a couple of hundred ISPs out there, nine or 10 of them very big ones. "Getting them on board is really important because if people cannot access the Websites in the first place they cannot download the images and therefore the gangsters making these images will have to stop, because there will be no one to buy them."
Stuart Hyde, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, backed the call for a national centre, which he thought could be funded by the Home Office "moving budgets around".