Violent internet porn to get new laws in the UK

Ministers also examining Data Protection?

The Government has said it will announce plans to strengthen laws applicable to violent internet pornography in the next few weeks. Such material is generally illegal to publish but legal to view in the UK under the current regime.

The announcement follows a meeting earlier this year between Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Liz Longhurst, who started a petition for legal reforms to ban violent internet porn after the brutal murder of her daughter.

Thirty-one year-old Jane Longhurst, a special needs teacher, was strangled with a pair of tights by a male acquaintance in 2003. Graham Coutts, an amateur musician, attacked her just hours after surfing the web to feed his apparent obsession with necrophilia and asphyxial sex. Coutts stored her naked body for 35 days before trying to burn it in woods. He was convicted in February 2004 and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison (later reduced to 26).

Extreme adult websites – those depicting bestiality, necrophilia, rape or torture – can fall foul of the Obscene Publications Act in the UK. This Act dates from 1959 and makes it an offence to publish any article whose effect likely to "deprave and corrupt" those who see it.

The Act can be used to force ISPs in the UK to remove such websites; but obscenity laws differ in other countries, where extreme adult sites are often hosted And while publishing such material is illegal in the UK, visiting it or possessing such images is not. This differs from the regulation of child pornography – where both publication and downloading of the material are banned.

Home Office spokesman Brendan O'Grady told OUT-LAW today, "We're looking at ways in which the current law on violent pornographic sites might be strengthened and we hope to make an announcement shortly."

He added that the Government has made a lot of progress on dealing with child pornography and it will look at lessons it can learn from that. The Home Office is also liaising with other governments with a view to international cooperation and looking at possible ways of blocking access to violent porn.

The Home Office is unwilling to confirm at this time that the law will make illegal the access of violent internet porn. Mr O'Grady also declined to comment on a report in The Herald newspaper last week which suggested that the plans will include changes to the UK's Data Protection Act.

The Herald suggested that the changes might allow credit card firms to pass on information about individuals who use their cards to pay for access to such material hosted elsewhere.

The Jane Longhurst Campaign Against Violent Internet Pornography calls upon the Government and ISPs to take action to block access to such sites; for an overhaul of the Obscene Publications Act to make it a criminal offence to possess such images; for better international cooperation to close down sites hosted abroad; and for internet images in the UK to be included in the remit of OFCOM.

According to the BBC, the campaign has received 32,000 signatures so far.

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