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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 18:14 GMT 19:14 UK
Police to patrol net chat rooms
Child using computer
Police also want credit cards used to access child porn withdrawn
Police around the world plan to patrol internet chat rooms to stop paedophiles grooming victims over the web.

A London summit of the International Virtual Global Taskforce also formed plans to work with credit card firms to tackle pay-per-view child pornography.

The Taskforce of international law enforcement agencies aims to make the internet safer for children.

National Crime Squad (NCS) Assistant Chief Constable Jim Gamble said the aim was "reassurance through visibility".

The Taskforce's different agencies will also work together to seize the assets of people profiting from child pornography websites.

Visible presence

The NCS in the UK and the US's FBI are heading the effort, which will utilise different time zones to monitor the web 24 hours a day.

If a paedophile is grooming someone online and this icon appears, how comfortable do you think they are going to feel?
Assistant Chief Constable Jim Gamble

US Customs, the Canadian Mounted Police, Australian Federal Police and Interpol are also involved.

Officers entering chat rooms will use an icon to alert other users to their presence.

Mr Gamble said the aim was a visible police presence, similar to officers patrolling the streets, to reassure the public and deter paedophiles.

"The police are going to be there overtly - there is nothing covert about this," he said.

"If a paedophile is grooming someone online and this icon appears, how comfortable do you think they are going to feel? Are they going to continue talking to that child, in case that child says to the police officer: 'This guy that is talking to me is behaving in a very unusual way'?

"There is no 'big brother' initiative here, this is about reassurance through visibility."

People using the chat room would be able to ask the police officer for advice, and efforts would be made to capture the details of anyone acting suspiciously to enable further investigation, Mr Gamble said.

Police sting

Tink Palmer, policy officer at the children's charity Barnardo's, said if paedophiles knew their internet conversation was being observed by a police officer it could stop them "in their tracks".

"If we can get to people who are starting off along this road, then we can work with them before it becomes an ingrained pattern of behaviour.

"People say, 'what about civil liberties?' but you have a virtual world out there - we have to police that to make it as safe as we can," she said.

The NSPCC's internet safety advisor Christine Atkinson said the project was an "important step forward in protecting children".

The National Crime Squad has worked in partnership with overseas agencies to combat paedophilia before, most notably on Operation Ore.

The operation has identified over 7,000 suspects and led to more than 1,200 convictions in the UK alone.

It also led to the development last year of the international police sting known as Operation Pin.

Forces set up sites appearing to offer child pornography.

Users are told they could face 10 years in jail and may have their details circulated to 180 countries.

The BBC's Tim Muffett
"So-called 'internet grooming' is a growing problem"


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