Child sex image viewers 'need help'
Paedophiles who view child sex images online but are not likely to be "contact abusers" should get medical help rather than face a court, Britain's most senior child protection police chief has said.
At least half of people viewing indecent images of children could be classified as "non-contact abusers" who do not pose a physical risk to children, according to Simon Bailey, the child protection and abuse lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo).
In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Bailey, the chief constable of Norfolk Police, said his approach was based on "realism", but admitted it could be "a very unpalatable response from a senior police officer".
He told the paper: "What academic research would say is between 16% and 50% of those people who have viewed indecent images of children are then likely to be 'contact abusers'. That can be as high as 25,000 or as low as 8,000. (This group) poses a threat."
But he said those that were not considered a threat did not "need to come into the criminal justice system in terms of being put before a court".
He added: "We have to think about an alternative solution. (We) need to engage with service providers from mental health and the health service to work with us to say these people need help.
"It is based upon the fact there will be a significant number of those people who will simply not go on to contact abuse."
But children's charities said that anyone who views child porn should be considered a risk to children, and just by watching it they were furthering the trade in physical abuse.
Peter Saunders, the chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), said: "I often wish I had more money - I work for a charity - not big salaries. So I pay someone else to rob a bank - and give me the money. Have I done wrong? I think so.
"People who pay others to rape and torture children are as guilty as the abusers.
"We have no issue with people who come forward saying they fear they will hurt a child getting support to prevent that happening - absolutely. That's important too."
The debate over how to treat apparently low-risk child sex offenders was reignited last week when a self-confessed paedophile outed himself on TV in a Channel 4 documentary, admitting he was attracted to young girls but denying he had committed an offence.
Named only as Eddie, he said he was seeking help in Europe, where countries such as Germany have dedicated treatment centres, while experts called for the UK to adopt a similar approach.
A paediatric doctor, Myles Bradbury, was jailed for 22 years this week for abusing 18 sick boys in his care, including possessing 16,000 indecent images.
Jon Brown, the NSPCC lead for tackling sexual abuse, was involved in the Channel 4 documentary.
He said today that abuse was a public health issue and anyone who thinks they have a problem should be helped to get treatment, as long as support for victims takes priority.
He added: "Anyone who views child abuse images should be considered a threat to children and must be evaluated and assessed on that basis.
"It may be that not everyone who views these images will go on to abuse a child but they must understand their urges are unacceptable.
"By viewing them they are part of a terrible trade which thrives on children - even babies - being sexually assaulted."