A police boss has hit out at suggestions that online paedophiles shouldn’t be prosecuted in some cases.

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner  Arfon Jones was responding to comments by the Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, who believes only offenders who pose a physical risk to children should face a criminal sentence.

According to Mr Bailey, the head of Operation Hydrant, the nationwide inquiry into historical child sexual abuse, the police were struggling to cope with the huge number of criminals looking at indecent images of children online and should concentrate resources on what he described as high risk offenders.

Mr Jones, a former police inspector, said: “Any offences that involve the sexual degradation of children are heinous. They are among the most serious crimes dealt with by the police and should be punished accordingly.

“Every time an indecent image of a child is viewed it is tantamount to the abuse being repeated over and over again.

“One of the things becoming clear is that many of the people looking at images like these are also creating them so they are also guilty of contact offences with children.

“In my opinion, anybody caught committing offences of this nature should feel the full force of the law and be prosecuted.

“There are strict sentencing guidelines for in relation to crimes perpetrated by paedophiles and they should be adhered to so that the right punishment is imposed and will more often than not involve custodial sentences.

“Of course, there should also be support in place to rehabilitate offenders once they have been punished.

“For example, the Circles of Support scheme works with sex offenders in North Wales has been particularly successful.

“The COSA programme sees members of the community volunteer to work with offenders and since it started in North Wales in 2007 none of the offenders taking part has gone on to re-offend.

“My only concern with COSA is that, while in South Wales it is funded centrally by the National Offender Management Service, we have to pay for it ourselves here in North Wales.”

“Protecting children is one of my most important responsibilities and it will be a priority in my new Police and Crime Plan which will be published soon.

“North Wales Police are already leading the way and the force has established a Paedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT) to tackle the emerging threat of child sexual exploitation via the internet.

“They work alongside the force’s Cyber Crime Team and High Tech Crime Unit based in St Asaph.

“Online child sexual exploitation is a vile crime committed by dangerous and devious people who come from every section of society and often appear to be leading outwardly respectable lives.

“I’m pleased that we’re investing so many resources in tackling online sexual exploitation because the care of children is the most important thing we do.

“Paedophiles are becoming increasingly sophisticated so it is vitally important that we respond accordingly with a team of our own experts catching those committing these types of crime and bringing them to justice.

“This problem isn’t going to go away and we need to concentrate on raising awareness, education and reducing harm and I think there is some excellent work being done to reach this priority.

“I’m very happy to support the force in providing as much resources as needed to ensure that children, wherever they may be in the world, are safe.”