Of the 41 prosecutions for offences related to making, distributing, or possessing indecent images of children that took place across courts in Warwickshire in 2020, just over half resulted in a conviction. There were 21 convictions - representing a total of 51 per cent.
Analysis of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures by CoventryLive has revealed that while the conviction rate last year was slightly up from 49 per cent in 2019, it was the second-lowest proportion since 2013, when 62 per cent of prosecutions resulted in a conviction.
At the same time, the number of prosecutions taking place has also been falling, having dropped from 53 cases taken to court in 2019 and in 2018. It was the lowest number since 2015, when 39 prosecutions took place.
As figures on the number of child abuse image cases being reported to Warwickshire Police are unavailable, it is unclear whether or not the drop in prosecutions reflects a drop in these crimes.
Separate figures show the total number of sexual offences being committed against children are also falling, but experts warn this does not mean fewer cases of child sexual abuse are happening - just that more children are slipping through the net, leaving perpetrators free to continue their crimes.
Last year, Warwickshire Police recorded 620 sexual offences against children, down from 634 crimes in 2019.
The 41 prosecutions recorded in 2020 most commonly involved white men aged between 50 and 59 - a total of 10 cases. None of the prosecutions in 2020 involved women however, in one case the gender of the defendant was not known.
Overall, three women have been prosecuted in Warwickshire for images of child abuse over the last decade, compared to 450 men. Five prosecutions that took place in 2020 involved young men aged between 18 and 24, and four involved men aged 70 or over.
Most cases involved white men
Where the ethnicity of the defendant was recorded, most cases involved white men (26) and one an Asian man. Meanwhile, of the 21 convictions recorded last year, five resulted in people being jailed, with sentences ranging from six to nine months to up to three years. Six of the sentences were suspended, while three received a community sentence.
DS Dan Freeman, from the Warwickshire Police Online Child Sexual Exploitation Team, said: “Here at Warwickshire Police we always act on any intelligence to suggest someone is viewing, making or distributing indecent images of children.
“Where we identify offences we will take action to bring offenders to justice and safeguard vulnerable children."
Warning to offenders
DS Freeman added: “People who are viewing indecent images of children may think they can hide behind their computer screens but this is far from the case - there are people looking for you and when we find you we will take action.
“This is not a victimless crime - viewing and sharing indecent images of children perpetuates the cycles of child abuse and we all have a duty to tackle it.
“If you have concerns someone is viewing indecent images please report it to police.
“If you are concerned about your own behaviour then I would urge you to seek help before you get a knock on the door.”
Anyone who wants to report concerns about someone viewing indecent images can do so by calling 101 or reporting at www.warwickshire.police.uk/report.
Alternatively, people can anonymously and confidentially report online child sexual abuse images to the Internet Watch Foundation https://report.iwf.org.uk/en
For people concerned about their own behaviour help is available at www.stopitnow.org.uk.
The national picture of online child abuse images
Nationally, there were 4,762 prosecutions relating to child abuse images across England and Wales in 2020, with 2,385 ending in a conviction, or 50 per cent.
That was down from 52 per cent in both 2019 and 2018, and the lowest figure recorded since 2015.
The number of prosecutions seen nationally have remained at similar levels in recent years - with 4,762 recorded in 2020, compared to 4,783 in 2019 and 4,785 in 2018..
However, police forces across England and Wales have been recording fewer sexual offences against children, with 51,432 such crimes recorded in 2020 - down from 55,763 in 2019 and 57,004 in 2018.
Age of defendants
Of the prosecutions relating to images of child abuse seen last year, 47 involved defendants under the age of 18 - including six involving defendants who were aged between 12 and 14 years old.
There were also 201 prosecutions against people aged 70 or older.
The prosecutions mainly involved men, but 23 proceedings involved women.
Where the ethnicity of the defendant was known, 3,181 of the prosecutions involved White people, 102 Asian people, 54 Black people, and 1,451 those from other ethnic backgrounds.
In terms of outcomes, 424 convictions resulted in immediate custody, with jail time ranging from just a month to between 10 and 15 years.
Meanwhile, nine ended with a fine, 412 were suspended and in 378 resulted in community orders.
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “It is extremely worrying that the number of convictions for indecent images of children is decreasing.
“This does not mean that less child abuse is taking place - it just means that more children are slipping through the net and more perpetrators are being allowed to walk free and continue their crimes.”