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Last Updated: Friday, 1 June 2007, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Child sex offender plan condemned
Computer keyboard
Jail should be reserved for more serious offenders, police say
Britain's child protection chief has been criticised for arguing that not all child sex offenders should be sent to prison.

Jim Gamble, of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), said some offenders who viewed child porn could be given a police caution.

He believes treatment in the community is a practical way of dealing with the huge scale of the problem.

Critics say people who view child pornography should not escape jail.

The CEOP was launched in April 2006 to tackle child sex abuse in the UK.

Since then the centre has received almost 2,000 reports from the police, members of the public, children and other agencies about child exploitation.

We shouldn't be sending everyone that ever commits an offence - particularly of the viewing kind - to prison
Jim Gamble, CEOP

Mr Gamble has responded to criticism by pointing out that cautions were already used to manage people who had viewed internet porn.

That included 700 people who were convicted earlier this year as part of an internet child pornography inquiry, Operation Ore.

However, Michele Elliot, director of Kidscape, said: "They are just as guilty as the person taking the photos. If they did not view the child would not be abused, therefore I think these people deserve prison," she said.

The Sun's managing editor Graham Dudman told BBC Radio 4's Today's programme that people's reaction to Mr Gamble's comments would be "bafflement, outrage and anger".

"Viewing is the same as arranging or taking these photos. If we cannot protect our children by sending predatory paedophiles to prison then we have truly lost the plot."

Following the criticism of his initial comments, Mr Gamble later made a statement to further clarify his position.

"Child sex abuse is a crime that must not and will not be tolerated.

Not sending people to jail for viewing child porn will only create further demand for it
Mohammed, London

"Offenders must be caught, and here at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre we are doing everything in our power to safeguard children and bring perpetrators to account.

"So let me be clear. If you are a person who has thoughts of a sexual nature about children then get help before you offend."

Mr Gamble said that those who did not seek help and went on to offend would be tracked down and brought "to account."

He added: "If you do offend then we will apply the full powers of the criminal justice system. In most cases that will mean prison, in other cases that may mean an adult caution."

Massive rise

Mr Gamble also told BBC News: "Not everyone does go to prison at the minute. Let's make sure the right people go to prison and let's manage the rest in a way that protects our children best."

Earlier Mr Gamble said the information flow on paedophilia was increasing massively.

He suggested that to deal with the scale of the problem, some offenders should receive a police caution and then be managed within the community.

Mr Gamble said he was not referring to paedophiles who committed violent offences like the rape of a child, but he insisted that some offenders "at the beginning of the spread of abuse may benefit from a police caution and can be managed".

'Ease of downloading'

He said: "We've got to create an active and real deterrent that diverts them (predators) from committing this offence before they do, and that's something that we're really focused on."

Ray Wyre, director of RWA, an independent child protection group that aims to help to rehabilitate sex offenders, said that not everyone who downloaded child pornography was a paedophile.

"They see a sentence under pictures that says 'three virgins', or something like that, and they get curious as to what that is, and they download it. It's that easy to have illegal images on your computer."

He said people who downloaded child porn were already being given cautions, which led to social services only allowing the offender to have supervised contact with their own children.

Research by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) found that 16% of women and 7% of men claimed to have been sexually abused involving physical contact before the age of 12. That suggests that one in nine pre-teenage children has suffered abuse.

The research helped to launch the charity's "full-stop" campaign to counter child abuse.

Reaction to Jim Gamble's comments

Online website nets sex offender
14 May 07 |  Lancashire
Online child abuse complaints up
17 Apr 07 |  Technology


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