Tyne & Wear

Police issue 160 cautions for child sex downloads

Police have issued more than 160 cautions to people who downloaded child sex images over the past five years.

The BBC asked forces in the North East, Cumbria and North Yorkshire how many cautions they had given out since 2011.

Northumbria Police, which gave out 94, said "appropriate action is taken on a case-by-case basis". Durham Police issued 40 cautions, North Yorkshire 13, Cleveland 11 and Cumbria 10.

A charity which helps abuse victims said using cautions was "concerning".

'Hugely damaging'

Gabrielle Shaw from NAPAC, which helps people recovering from childhood abuse, said: "Behind every indecent image of a child is a picture of a crime scene.

"It is hugely damaging because a child is being abused - their innocence is being robbed and the effects often last a lifetime.

"The high usage of cautions shown by these figures is concerning."

Donald Findlater from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which works with people worried about their sexual interest in children, said there were situations in which a caution would be "the right response".

He told BBC Newcastle: "For example if the person that's accessed sexual images of anyone perhaps 14 or 15 years of age is themselves 16, 17, 18, the police might decide a caution is an adequate response.

'Serious offenders'

"It doesn't happen that often though; the number of people given cautions for this type of behaviour is small compared to those who are charged for this kind of behaviour."

The Home Office said: "The Government is absolutely clear that serious offenders should always be prosecuted and taken to court.

"Only in exceptional circumstances should cautions be given to people who download indecent images of children, and only after close scrutiny by a senior police officer. But these remain operational decisions for police forces.

"All offenders cautioned for such offences are placed on the sex offenders register and required to report regularly to police."

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