The NSPCC is calling for urgent action to stamp out the illegal trade in child abuse images after figures revealed that nearly 26 million have been confiscated in the last two years.
This staggering total comes from just five of the 43 police forces in England and Wales which were able to check their records. A sixth force said it had records of more than 10 million images going back a number of years.
The figures are in stark contrast to 1990 – before the internet became hugely popular - when the Home Office estimated there were just 7,000 hard copy images in circulation in the UK. Now, at least five times that amount are being confiscated every single day. The pictures are graded from level one - the lowest - to category five, which involves sadism. Many of the pictures involve children under ten and even babies appear in some.
In response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, Northamptonshire Police were not able to give a breakdown of the number of images discovered, but did reveal that last year they arrested 46 people for taking, possessing or distributing indecent images of children. Since 1995 the number of people convicted in England and Wales has risen more than 1,700 per cent from 85 to 1,495 last year (2011).
There have been several court cases this year involving huge amounts of indecent images of children. In December a 38-year old man from Northampton was jailed for eighteen months for eight counts of possession indecent images and sexual assault.
Fiona Richards, NSPCC regional head of service for the East Midlands, said: “The number of these dreadful images is absolutely appalling.
“The truly awful thing is that more and more children are being abused so these pictures can be produced and once in circulation they may stay there for many years. If we can halt this vile trade we will be saving countless children from suffering sexual assaults which have a huge impact on their lives.
“The authorities are working hard to clamp down on this but there are still far too many pictures available. It’s time the government and industry got together to find an answer to this corrosive problem which cannot be allowed to continue
“There are obviously paedophile rings which make a sordid business of sharing these images. But there are now so many in circulation that people from all walks of life are getting caught with them. They have to understand these are not just images - they are crime scenes.”
John Carr, Secretary of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, said: “It’s reasonable to assume that as there is a seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of images more children are being abused to satisfy demand. And research has shown that the victims are getting younger and younger and are being assaulted in ever more grotesque and violent ways.
“Some of those who are caught with these abusive images say they had a sexual interest in children but had been too scared to do anything about it until the internet came along- then it opened the door for them. And once they’re in they crave more sickening levels of abuse. It’s not unknown for an offender to go very quickly from viewing pictures of secondary school children to images of three-year-olds who have been bound, gagged and assaulted.
“These numbers beggar belief but we need to face up to the realities of the situation and find better, more effective ways of tackling it.”