Web of filth runs out of control

Law outdated, say ministers
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The Independent Online
THE HOME OFFICE has admitted that the laws governing internet pornography are "outmoded" and in need of urgent update to combat the growing menace of child porn.

A spokeswoman last night confirmed that the finishing touches were being put to a wide-ranging review of the sentences for sex offenders.

She spoke as a campaign gathered strength demanding harsher sentences for people who access internet pornography. There has been heavy criticism of the four-month prison sentence given to the rock star Gary Glitter.

Children's groups said the leniency of Glitter's sentence sent the wrong message to paedophiles, and they called for a wide-ranging review of the links between the internet and child pornography, claiming present laws are outdated.

Their demands have been reinforced by police groups, who feel that their ability to monitor people who set up such websites is inadequate.

Glitter was sent to Horfield Prison in Bristol after he admitted 54 charges of making indecent photographs of children under 16, including downloading images of children as young as two on his home computer.

Some 4,000 pictures were found on Glitter's computer and the court heard how Glitter would sometimes spend up to 12 hours a day poring over images that Mr Justice Butterfield described as "filthy and revolting" and "of the very, very worst possible type".

But campaigners against child pornography are angered that, with good behaviour, Glitter, 55, could be released in just two months. They argue that such a sentence serves as little or no deterrent to the thousands of other people thought to be accessing such material from their home computers. The maximum sentence Glitter might have received for the offence of producing pornographic photographs of children was three years.

"This sounds very light for this sort of reprehensible crime," said Mike Taylor, director of child care for the NSPCC. "This sort of thing should always be taken very seriously. We should remember how the children have suffered to produce this kind of material."

The NSPCC has called for a government review of child pornography and access to the internet, warning that paedophiles are regularly using child chat lines to gain access to children. It also believes the mechanisms in place to catch people such as Glitter are inadequate. Glitter was caught only because he took his computer in for repair.

The Children's Society expressed further disquiet at the judge's summing- up on the separate under-age sex charges of which Glitter was acquitted. Mr Justice Butterfield had told the jury: "Some 14-year-olds look like sophisticated young ladies, a nightmare for many publicans." Ian Sparks, the society's chief executive, said that the legal protection of a girl aged 14 "must not, in any circumstances, ever depend on her appearance".

Ministers and civil servants have consulted judges, prison groups and children's charities in an effort to draw up laws that are more relevant to modern-day offences such as downloading pornography from computers. "Some of these laws were drawn up at the end of the last century and many are outdated," said the Home Office spokeswoman. "There is a concern about the protection of children. For the moment these are the sentences that are there and it is up to judges to interpret whether they are appropriate or not."

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