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New unit targets Net paedophiles

A new agency to tackle child abuse and indecent images on the Internet is being launched by the Home Office. Suspicious activity can be reported to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre 24 hours a day. The unit, staffed by about 100 police, computer technicians and child welfare specialists, will also offer advice to parents and potential victims. One of its tactics will see officers pose as children in online chatrooms to entrap paedophiles. The director of the new centre, Jim Gamble, told BBC's Five Live Breakfast programme: "We're going to empower children in the UK like nowhere else in the world." He said the centre will deliver web-based information sites which will provide children with information and enable them "to report to us any time of the day or night". "That means if you're a paedophile grooming an actual child, and that child has visited our website they could be cutting and pasting your conversation and sending it to us," he said. Fake websites purporting to offer images will also be set up to lure paedophiles into disclosing credit card details, so they can be traced. Gaming concern CEOP is affiliated to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the UK's new FBI-style organisation. The London-based agency will work with international police forces to protect children. It is estimated that more than 20,000 people are regularly accessing illegal images via the Internet in the UK. In 2005, more than 6,000 paedophile websites were reported to police - almost twice as many as the year before. Most of the content originates abroad but young people in the UK are vulnerable to determined paedophiles who try to "groom" them online. Experts are said to be particularly concerned about the thriving online gaming industry as it provides another area where abusers can interact anonymously with children. Children's charities have welcomed the centre, said to be the world's first example of police, the industry, child welfare bodies and the government working together under one roof to tackle online abuse, as "a big step forward". Mary Marsh, NSPCC director and chief executive, said: "This is a major step forward in tackling online child abuse and child exploitation. "The NSPCC is pleased to be playing a significant role as a partner in delivering this new service from the centre." UKFast is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

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