Judge calls for Internet controls on Net paedophilia

British judiciary admits the dangers of Internet chat

A British judge has called for greater checks on unlawful Internet content after sentencing an Oxford University scholar to five years for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy that he met in a gay Internet chatroom.

Dr Anthony Gray, 31, was found guilty of two counts of sexual assault at a six-day trial in February. Sentenced in Cardiff on Thursday, the court heard how the theology graduate lured a 14-year-old boy that he met on Gay.com into meeting him at a Cardiff hotel, where he proceeded to sexually abuse him. Sentencing Gray to five years, judge David Norris expressed his concern over the lack of controls in place to monitor Internet content, and to protect children from paedophiles operating in chatrooms.

"I asked the prosecution to make any enquiries they thought appropriate into possible applied controls to the use of the Internet network," said Norris. "Internet access is wholly unrestricted to anyone of any age -- I was merely repeating concerns that have been voiced by the general public debate on this issue."

A government-backed Internet Crime Forum report Chat Wise, Street Wise published last month specifically investigated the dangers of online chat services, and looked into ways of protecting children from Net predators. At the release of the study, the Home Office challenged Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to moderate chatrooms specifically created for children, but rejected proposals to criminalise the online enticement of children.

The report, however, warned against relying on chatroom supervision, "particularly since some children may participate in adult discussions on a whole range of topics rather than limiting their activity to chatrooms designed for their own age group".

"When chatrooms are hosted by commercial portals, those companies have a responsibility to look at how they can improve their procedures," said Nigel Williams, director of Childnet International. The real problem lies outside of this remit though. "The difficulty lies with IRC (Internet Relay Chat), however -- chatrooms that exist on a non-commercial basis and are not hosted by anyone but are created by individuals -- as with these you're out in the Wild West."

Last month, Net paedophile Patrick Green who used a Yahoo! chatroom to "groom" a 13-year-old girl into meeting him for sex, had his five-year sentence halved. He will be eligible for parole after 15 months, halfway through his new sentence. As he has been in custody since his arrest in June, Green is expected to be released in five months time.

"It's hard to understand how Patrick Green's sentence was reduced when he was guilty for a number of serious sexual offences, as well as the possession of child pornography and attempting to [lure] another child into meeting him whilst he was on bail," said Williams.

What are the risks of paedophiles approaching children through Yahoo! Messenger chatrooms? Find out the details of ZDNet News' investigation in the Chatroom Danger Special Report

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