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Police are proposing a new dedicated unit to tackle internet child pornography - staffed by officers, charity workers and computer experts - with resources to monitor suspect internet activity 24/7 and carry out covert ops against net paedophiles.

Stuart Hyde, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told the BBC that "law enforcement agencies, children's charities and internet service providers are united in calling for a national centre" in the face of the apparently burgeoning market for child pornography.

Home office figures show that, during 2003, 2,234 people were charged or cautioned in connection with downloading images of child pornography - a massive increase over 2001 when 549 offenders had their collars felt. Kids' charity NCH's internet safety advisor John Carr called the increase "astonishing", and added that it reflected the sheer number of web paedophiles identified during the 2002 Operation Ore crackdown on net child pornography.

The NCH says the 2003 figures - possibly representing "not a blip but a new normality", as Carr put it - require the establishment of a "UK Internet Safety Centre". How this will be funded remains a matter a concern, but Stuart Hyde admitted: "We're not expecting the government to suddenly put massive amounts of money into this."

Instead, he hopes that the cash can be found by "moving budgets about" within the Home Office. ®

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