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Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the number of offenders based in the UK who are involved in the distribution of paedophile images over the internet. [109576]

There are no reliable estimates of the number of active paedophiles in the UK, or of the scale of demand for indecent photographs of children via the internet.In 2001, 289 offenders were convicted of offences under section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 as amended, which deals with taking, making, distribution, possession with intent to distribute, and advertising of indecent images, and 51 under S 160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which deals with possession. However, recent high profile operations such as Operation Ore indicate a far higher level of activity. The police estimate that there are thousands of individuals in this country actively involved in the distribution of such images in the UK. Distribution can involve behaviour ranging from swapping of a few images between individuals to running a major commercial internet site. Figures from the Internet Watch Foundation indicate that less than 3 per cent. of illegal sites they identify are hosted in the UK.