Call for child porn users amnesty

Fewer users of Internet child pornography should face court action, a child protection group has said.

The Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) wants to encourage otherwise low-risk offenders to confess and hand over their computers.

The threat of court action discourages this - instead they could just be cautioned and placed on the sex offenders' register, CCPAS suggests.

The UK police hunt for Web paedophiles - Operation Ore - was launched in 2002.

Officers have checked more than 7,000 individuals linked to child pornography through the operation, leading to hundreds of convictions.

But some child protection experts believe efforts to find offenders may be hampered by putting low-risk perpetrators of child Internet pornography through the court system.

A court appearance can lead to offenders losing their job, and put them at risk of assault or persecution.

CCPAS director David Pearson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Most people who are downloading indecent images of children are not known about.

"This is a genuine initiative to try to encourage people to come forward who are prepared to admit that they have a problem with this area. They would come forward on the basis of handing in their computer to the police, facing the issue, being independently assessed, treatment being provided.

"It wouldn't be a soft option. This is a genuine attempt, in order to protect children, to prevent people continuing down a road which might lead in some cases to directly abusing children."

But Assistant Chief Constable Stuart Hyde, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "The interest that we have is to protect the victims. These are pictures of children who have been abused, who have been sexually tortured for the gratification of some of these people.

"If that trade continues, then more and more children will be abused."

He added: "All this is trying to do really is to set in motion a way of reducing the culpability of offenders, at a time when I think they need to be held to account for the offences they have committed."

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