'I can't imagine viewing those images again': Sex offender tells ITV News of rehabilitation therapy

A convicted sex offender who viewed and downloaded thousands of images of child abuse claims that he has been rehabilitated with therapy.

'Ed' was given a community service sentence after he was caught with 27,000 images of child abuse on his computer.

He voluntarily signed up to specialist therapy designed to rehabilitate sex offenders and said he now is confident he will not reoffend.

"I can't in my deepest heart imagine ever getting close to viewing these images again," he said.

He spoke out as Britain's top child protection police officer controversially said sex offenders who view indecent images of children online should be rehabilitated rather than jailed.

Ed said: "I can understand some people might think he's avoided the more serious punishment and the impact of going to prison and that's not fair.

"I feel I'm being probably better equipped to avoid re-offending through this community order with the additional support of the rehabilitation programmes."

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, child protection lead at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, says the justice system is struggling to cope with the number of sex offenders and said police cannot "arrest their way out of the problem".

He added 74% of online sex offenders do not receive custodial sentences and should undergo rehabilitation programmes to reduce re-offending.

There are half a million offenders in the UK viewing and downloading images of child abuse, the NSPCC says.

And police are arresting 420 offenders a month, according to Chief Constable Bailey.

"Those numbers are not slowing down," he said. "Those numbers are just growing and growing."

Chief Constable Bailey said that police cannot 'lock up tens of thousands of offenders'. Credit: ITV News

He added: "Three out of four offenders are currently not receiving a custodial sentence.

"I would argue that having to confront and deal with your offending behaviour is probably far more impactive than a conditional discharge or a suspended sentence.

"Every day officers across the country are arresting more and more offenders, the courts are struggling to cope with the demand, the prisons are struggling to cope with the demand, we simply cannot lock up the tens of thousands of offenders that we are seeking to deal with."

The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, through it's 'Stop it Now' helpline and therapy programmes, say that rehabilitation works in most cases.

Tom Squire of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. Credit: ITV News

Senior practitioner, Tom Squire said the re-offending rate of people looking at child abuse images on the internet is between five per cent and ten per cent.

But he said there are no comparative figures between those who have received a jail term and those that received a non-custodial sentence.

"I think as a society we're all learning really about the different interventions and what impact they'll have."

But Jim Gamble, former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, said there is only one place that sex offenders belong and that is jail.

Jim Gamble said that sex offenders belong in jail. Credit: ITV News

"If we were talking about terrorism, we wouldn't be saying 'Well, there's not enough space in the prisons to put all the people who are killing our citizens. We'd make space," he said.

"So if we want child sex abusers to think twice before they go online and download an indecent image, we've got to make sure they understand there'll be a consequence."

The NSPCC say the scale of offenders viewing online child sex abuse images amounts to a social emergency and that more needs to be done to tackle the threat.

But as yet, there is no silver bullet to deal with the problem.