Teachers said they had also identified the development, which comes before government plans to give every schoolchild in the country an e-mail address. The Chief Constable of the Fife Constabulary, John Hamilton, told delegates at the 15th European Policing Executive Conference in Aberdeen that paedophiles were using e-mail to access potential victims and encourage them to exchange salacious information.
"It is unwise to leave children unsupervised if they have access to e- mail chat lines." Mr Hamilton said many offenders indulged in a practice known as "spoofing", which involved adults posing as teenagers to win the confidence of youngsters before encouraging them to swap pornographic conversations and images. "Spoofing" made it difficult to trace offenders.
Mr Hamilton said this form of computer crime was merely the tip of the iceberg of the deluge of internet crime which the world would face by 2000.
The Easter conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers heard that a group of schoolchildren in Sheffield were bombarded with messages by a paedophile gang after being given e-mail.
Fortunately, the youngsters were sixth-formers and reported the problem.
The ATL said that it commissioned a survey of 4,000 children aged 11 to 16 and found that two-thirds of youngsters wished to have their own e-mail address.
Many children believed that staff could teach them nothing about computers. Some 40 per cent said they were more computer literate than their teachers and 31 per cent said they were more adept on the internet than staff.
The association now offers Cyber Patrol software to its members as a benefit, in order to place a filter on the internet sites to which children can gain access. Richard Margrave, of the ATL, said: "The union is increasingly worried that pupils can access pornographic and racist material."
According to Mr Hamilton, internet crime will be the biggest single challenge to law enforcement in the millennium.
He said it was a global problem which required police forces across the world to recruit experts in the field or undertake dramatic retraining.
Mr Hamilton also appealed to parents to play their part in protecting youngsters who used the Internet. Delegates heard how, in a US study, 450,000 pornographic images were found to exist on bulletin boards. Computer crime was difficult to police because of the speed with which it was growing and the ingenious ways offenders were finding to cover their tracks.Reuse content