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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 20:57 GMT
Charities condemn 'lenient' sentences
Charities say the sentencing will not deter internet paedophiles
Children's charities have united in their condemnation of the "lenient" Wonderland Club jail sentences, saying they send out the wrong message to paedophiles.

On Tuesday, seven British men who peddled child pornography on the internet as part of an international ring were jailed for between 12 and 30 months each.

You would get a longer sentence for accumulating masses of parking tickets or for burglary

Dr Michelle Elliott, Kidscape

The coalition of seven UK charities, consisting of the NSPCC, Barnardo's, ChildLine, the Children's Society, the National Children's Bureau, the NCH and the NCVCCO spoke as one voice to express how "deeply disappointed" they were.

The charities had been pinning hope on legislation introduced last year, authorising maximum sentences of 10 years - rather than three years - for offences relating to the possession of child pornography.

Shorter sentences

Although the internet perverts were finally caught by British justice, the charities feel that in other ways they have slipped through the net.

Under laws applying at the time the men were charged, they could only have faced a maximum of three years in jail.
More police resources are being put into stamping out child abuse

"Child sex abuse is always a serious issue, but this sentencing sends out a contrary message to child sex offenders who use the internet," said NCH internet consultant John Carr.

"We viewed the change in the law as a recognition that these offences pose a very serious threat to the safety of children."

'Thriving crime'

While he praised the increased efforts of police in tackling internet crime and child sex abuse, Mr Carr said that the shorter sentences would mean that paedophiles would continue to thrive on the web.

This sentencing sends out a contrary message to child sex offenders who use the internet

John Carr, NCH

Director of the child protection charity Kidscape, Dr Michelle Elliott, described the sentences as a "joke".

"You would get a longer sentence for accumulating masses of parking tickets or for burglary," she said.

"I am absolutely stupefied by this leniency. It sends a clear message that these crimes are not being taken seriously."

But police officers who led the two-year investigation said the punishments were "as severe as expected".

'Positive change'

Detective Chief Inspector Alex Wood said the new legislation, had been driven partly by the results of the Operation Cathedral inquiry, which caught the Wonderland group.

"Paedophiles appearing in court today will receive much more severe sentences because of this legislation," he said.

Detective Superintendent Peter Spindler, who was in overall charge of the operation, said their conviction was a victory.

"When the crime squad took on the operation, we were aware that they could only be sentenced to three years in prison.

"But we had to take on the operation to highlight the level of appalling behaviour on the internet. It has contributed to change."

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