North East police chief calls on internet giants to reinvest 'eye-watering' profits into tackling child abuse

Durham Police Chief Constable Mike Barton. Picture by PA
Durham Police Chief Constable Mike Barton. Picture by PA

Internet giants should re-invest some of their "eye-watering" profits into efforts to stamp out child abuse images online, a chief constable has said.

Mike Barton challenged firms to do more to stop the content appearing in the first place, as police arrest hundreds of suspected paedophiles every month.

The head of Durham Constabulary also called on social media sites to ban users responsible for abuse or harassment on the platforms for life.

Mr Barton, the national policing lead for crime operations, questioned why it was "so difficult" to remove child pornography from the web.

He said forces are making more than 400 arrests in relation to indecent images of children every month, but police cannot tackle the problem alone.

The senior officer said the onus should be on the companies that invented and run the online platforms.

"It's their responsibility and instead of posting eye-watering profits, a proportion of them should be channelled into solving this," he said.

"I am not saying you can stop all crime on the internet. What I'm saying is I think they could do more."

Mr Barton stopped short of identifying specific firms, saying all of those in the arena have a responsibility.

"If you name them then the ones that aren't named might think they are getting off scot free," he said.

"They've all got to think about what security looks like. Just like everybody's got to make sure their front door is locked when they go out to work."

He referred to efforts to trace offenders behind the "odious" live-streaming of child abuse.

"They (the companies) will say that the volumes of traffic on their platforms are so high it's hard to find them," Mr Barton said.

"The volumes are so high so they earn eye-watering profits - reinvest those eye-watering profits.

"If you can't police your system because it's too big, well, don't run it so big. Run a company that you can control.

"The range of criminality on the internet - the police can't possibly do this. This has got to be designed out in the first place."

Figures suggest forces in England and Wales are recording an average of 15 child sex offences involving the internet every day.

In February another police chief sparked controversy by suggesting those who viewed indecent images of children should not always face criminal charges - with lower-level offenders dealt with through counselling and rehabilitation while officers focus on the most dangerous individuals.

The NSPCC called for more to be done to tackle child abuse images "flooding dark corners of the web".

A spokeswoman for the charity said: "An estimated half a million men in the UK may have viewed child sexual abuse images online and behind every image a child has been harmed and is suffering in the real world."

Meanwhile, Mr Barton called on social media firms such as Twitter and Facebook to permanently "kick off" those who use their sites to bully, harass and stalk other users.

He said: "If you have somebody who has a propensity to insult people and you allow them to stay in that place then don't be surprised if they insult others and it escalates.

"Why not just give them a lifetime ban? It's not breaching someone's human rights to say you can't use Twitter."

Twitter's policy states that links to images or content promoting child sexual exploitation will be removed, with offending accounts permanently suspended.

The site's rules say that accounts involved in abusive behaviour such as harassment or violent threats can be permanently suspended.

Last week, the platform said it was taking action on 10 times the number of abusive accounts every day, compared with the same time last year.