Up to three times as many sex offenders in UK as previously believed, National Crime Agency warns

Between 550,000 and 850,000 people pose a threat to children, agency estimates

Child sex offences appear to have risen during the pandemic as a result of increased online activity.
Child sex offences appear to have risen during the pandemic as a result of increased online activity.

There could be as many as 850,000 child sex offenders in the UK, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned.

The latest figure is significantly higher than the previous estimate of 300,000, which was calculated based on the number of registered sex offenders as well as the amount of people who look at child abuse images online.

Using new methodology which includes those involved in physical abuse, the NCA now estimates that the hidden population of offenders lies somewhere between 550,000 and 850,000 people.

In its annual National Strategic Assessment, the enforcement agency said its attempts to catch paedophiles would be jeopardised if Facebook follows through with its plan to introduce end-to-end encryption for its messages.

The NCA believes this would be a mistake, citing the example of David Wilson, from Norfolk, who was jailed for 25 years for 96 sexual offences against 51 boys aged between four and 14.

Fake profiles he had set up on Facebook to groom these boys were used as key pieces of evidence in his successful prosecution, the assessment said.

The report’s authors therefore warned that encryption on the platform “will prevent access to message content and likely mean other offenders like Wilson will go undetected”.

Lynne Owens, the NCA’s director general, also urged social media firms to improve their safety designs.

She said: “While the NCA will continue to lead the fight to cut serious and organised crime, it is imperative that technology and social media companies match this intensity, building in safety by design and closing down all avenues for offenders to exploit their platforms.

“In particular, we must move to a place of zero tolerance for the presence of such material online in order to raise the bar to offending and, most importantly, protect children.”

Her comments come as child abuse is thought to be on the rise, amid increased online activity during the pandemic.

In the final nine months of last year, the police arrested 320 people - one of whom was the deputy head teacher of a primary school - in a campaign against child sex offenders.

Additional reporting by PA

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in