Panorama: Children's Fight Club
Hundreds of violent videos showing brutal fights between children are being shown on websites including YouTube, a BBC One Panorama investigation reveals on Monday 30 July.
The trend has become so serious that police chiefs have called on internet companies to actively police their own sites by searching for violent content and removing it.
But YouTube owner Google, which is worth around £57billion, told Panorama that it does not employ anyone to proactively police the site - and insisted it would not be doing so.
"Actively policing and pre-screening is someone else's censorship and we do not think that is our role," said a spokesperson.
YouTube takes down videos but only if they are flagged by users and subsequently found to breach their guidelines.
The other sites featured in the programme are Liveleak, run partly from Manchester, which says it checks all videos before hosting them, and Purestreetfights which hosts dozens of videos showing British children fighting and being assaulted.
In some of the videos posted online, children, as young as 11 or 12, can be seen punching and kicking other children in the head - and others are shown in the footage encouraging them and filming the fights on their mobile phones.
Hayden Hewitt, co-founder of Liveleak, defends the inclusion of two such fights including one in which a girl has to go to hospital with a detached retina.
"Of course it's horrible. It's not about me morally defending anything here. We have to take a stance of saying 'look all this is happening, this is real life, this is going on, we're going to show it'."
He did say he would remove a string of racist comments posted under a fight of two black girls fighting but these remained online.
In other videos posted on YouTube gang members from Liverpool can be viewed showing off a wide array of guns and drugs as well as vandalising vehicles and property.
In one such film a youth is seen brandishing a handgun and then smashing it against a police car.
Another video shows a laughing teenager jumping on a police car and shattering its windscreen.
This video, along with others, was brought to the attention of YouTube by Panorama - and was approved by its monitoring system.
YouTube admitted that three gang videos showing vicious attacks in the street, and flagged by the programme, had slipped through and should in fact have been removed.
But the company ruled that a series of videos showing attacks on police cars and youths brandishing guns did not contravene its guidelines and have been allowed to remain on the website.
Deputy Chief Constable Brian Moore, a spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said companies should actively search their sites for videos of violence and criminal activity and pass on details to the police.
He said: "I think that YouTube and companies like them are absolutely responsible for policing themselves.
"If they think that the police should be doing this then I should tell you that is not our position. They are responsible for what is on their products - they are making profit from this.
"The taxpayer should not be clearing these images - this is exactly an issue for the company and I want them to be responsible in terms of their attitude in trying to put this right.
"We would question who is in a financially better position to police the likes of YouTube - those in the private sector, who are earning huge amounts of money, or police forces which are currently having to stretch budgets."
The Home Office says that technically it can be illegal to upload violent footage onto the internet but there have been no prosecutions.
Nonetheless many of the videos found by Panorama do themselves depict clear breaches of the law including assault and vandalism.
One 17-year-old victim from Glasgow told of the distress he had suffered after a video of him being beaten by three other boys was posted on YouTube.
He said: "It was after the first couple of punches that I finally got my vision properly back and I just saw the outline of a mobile phone. They were taking pictures of me getting my face all bloody.
"I just wanted to forget it because ... but people kept coming up to me and reminding me of the attack and it just hurt emotionally because I kept picturing it every time, every punch ... and when I felt the blood coming from my head."
His mother challenged the owners of YouTube to actively stop such footage reaching the site, something YouTube says it cannot do because of the sheer number of videos uploaded.
She says: "How would they feel, if it was one of their children, their son or their daughter up there?
"Would they allow that to go through? I don't think they would. So why ... why allow it for anybody else?"
YouTube removed this video after it was flagged as inappropriate by Panorama. It had been viewed more than 1,600 times by then but nobody else had objected to it.
Another 13-year-old victim from Liverpool, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told how she was subjected to a vicious attack - filmed by 10 to 15 people - while onlookers shouted "kill her". It was then uploaded onto the internet. (note: not YouTube).
She says: "One of these girls came over to us ... and then she just started hitting me and pulling my hair and kicking me."
"I stood up and she came back at me and then hit me and punched me and pulled me down to the floor. There were loads of people filming it.
"I think they should be prosecuted, because it's just mean - videoing someone getting battered."
In one video a 15-year-old girl from Northampton is knocked unconscious with a kick to the head. She spent three days in hospital with a detached retina. This film was uploaded onto Liveleak and Purestreetfights.
Another youth from Bradford lies in a road, unconscious, after being kicked and stamped on the head. This last video appeared on YouTube, Liveleak and Purestreetfights.
Former judge, Lord Taylor of Warwick, said that many of the attacks on websites were so serious that more robust laws were needed to deter would-be attackers and those filming the fights.
He says: "You have clips of people having their heads kicked in, literally. That could cause brain damage or even death, and that merits imprisonment."
In another worrying trend, criminal gangs are posting films, showing off arsenals of weapons, drug use and criminal behaviour.
When Panorama alerted the website and senior management within Google, the owners of YouTube, they refused to take down some videos in which the gangs brandish guns and vandalise police cars.
In one a youngster is seen jumping on and smashing the windscreen of a police car and in another a hooded teenager attempts to use a handgun to break into a police car.
In another film a man points a sawn-off shot-gun at the camera, while others display knives, handguns and even machine guns. It is not possible to determine whether these are real or replica.
Further films, some of which were taken down by YouTube, show gang members racing stolen vehicles, snorting cocaine and showing off what appears to be large bags of cannabis.
A spokesman for Google who owns YouTube defended the decision to leave some of the videos up on the popular website saying: "While we recognise that some people may find them offensive we believe they are consistent with our terms and conditions."
In an interview with Panorama, Rachel Whetstone from Google added it was not YouTube's responsibility to actively police the website.
"The community polices the website," she said.
"It is not a question about how many people Google employs or how much money Google makes or how much money YouTube makes. What we do is what we think is right. And we don't think it's right.
"Actively policing and pre-screening is someone else's censorship and we do not think that is our role.
"If you speak to anyone in the YouTube community they would consider that to be policing it, and they would understand your notion that no-one polices it as completely wrong."
"I think the people who've been victims of violent assault - it's a tragedy. And I think there are many people in society today who are victims of violent assault and the fact that it would be uploaded onto a website would make it much worse.
"The reality is that most of those videos do get flagged and, if it's violent assault and the police come to us and say they would like to prosecute someone because it was a violent assault, we would cooperate with them provided they've gone through the proper procedures.
"We believe that it's the job of the police to come to us when crimes have been committed and we will comply with their requests and help them with their requests.
"It's up to the police when a criminal assault has taken place to take action. And I think we are very happy to help them do that but the balance of responsibility is with the police."
Panorama: Children's Fight Club, 8.30pm, Monday 30 July 2007, BBC One