Paedophiles feel more threatened by online vigilante groups than the police, senior officers have claimed.
The claims come ahead of a three-part documentary, starting tonight, in which detectives posing as child sex offenders to snare predators are filmed for the first time.
Police chiefs have also targeted big technology firms, insisting they ‘must bear the responsibility’ for failing in efforts to block millions of abuse images being shared online.
Detective Sergeant Andy Nash, of the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit, claimed paedophiles were more afraid of online groups who lure people to meetings by using fake profiles, then exposing them on camera.
He told the Times: ‘They are less concerned about meeting police officers. Whether that’s because we don’t broadcast it live on Facebook for their families to see or because the sentencing until recently has been so poor, I couldn’t tell you.’
The Channel 4 film, starting this evening, follows ‘Simon’, an individual appearing to offer his 10-year-old daughter to abusers online, but who is in fact an undercover officer.
The covert operative told the Mirror: ‘Simon is completely fictitious, he’s a character. When I go in to role and deploy he comes out of a box and he’s like a skin that I put on.
‘It’s quite disturbing portraying yourself as an adult, male, paedophile, but it’s such a good technique for catching people who are seeking to abuse, hurt and rape children.’
Worrying figures suggest some 300,000 Britons have a sexual interest in children, amid growing availability of illegal material online.
With increasing availability of such material, and worrying figures suggesting 300,000 Britons have a sexual interest in children, Simon Bailey, lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, added that grooming was also on the rise and said arresting hundreds of sex offenders every month has little effect.
The explosion in online child sexual abuse has only worsened during the pandemic with reports of obscene material more than doubling globally to over four million in the first month of lockdown in 2020.
In April of the same year, there were nearly nine million attempts in the UK to access child sexual abuse websites which had been previously blocked by the Internet Watch Foundation.
Simon Bailey, lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, added that the emphasis was on technology companies to act and that police wouldn’t be able to deal with the threat in the way they wish until they do.
‘I don’t think their role in the facilitation of all this has been truly appreciated,’ he said.
‘Without them the abuse wouldn’t be able to take place in so many cases.’
Channel 4 Documentaries Senior Commissioning Editor, Alisa Pomeroy said: ‘This powerful series is both timely and vitally important.
‘As a direct result of Covid, millions of children are now stuck at home, bored, hidden away in their bedrooms and chatting online.
‘Each potentially laying themselves open to the sinister practice of online grooming by an increasing number of would-be sexual abusers.’
Joe Mather, Executive Producer, added: ‘This is a hard-hitting trio of documentaries filmed with great care and sensitivity over two years.
‘It’s been extraordinary to have been granted access to such a complex area of policing and to witness the work of undercover detectives as they go about searching for paedophiles operating online.
‘What the child sexual abuse officers are witness to on a daily basis is truly horrific yet these detectives, often with children of their own, have to engage with the offenders in order to find and arrest them, knowing that for every one they arrest there are countless more victims still at risk.’
Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! UK and Ireland Helpline, said: ‘Police officers state on more than one occasion in the series that ‘we cannot arrest our way out of this problem’.
‘To protect all children, we need effective ways of preventing harm from occurring in the first place – and that means working with people who are offending, or are on the cusp of doing so.
‘Some may act out of ignorance, at least initially, and so need to be told that their behaviour is illegal and has severe consequences, including losing much of what they value in life.
‘While the programmes document the crimes of a handful of serious, repeat offenders, there are tens of thousands of people who aren’t yet offending but are behaving in dangerous and risky ways online.
‘We need to work with these people too – from our experience, many offenders begin by viewing legal adult pornography and over time develop an interest in viewing illegal content or having sexual conversations with children online. These people are mostly not the entrenched paedophiles of popular imagination.
‘Hunting paedophiles’ might initially sound like a good idea to trumpet, but it doesn’t encourage those troubled by their sexual thoughts to seek help before they do harm. If our primary concern is the safety of our children, we have to ensure that such people are offered effective support to change.’