UK Politics

Outlaw possession of written accounts of child abuse says MP

A Conservative MP is seeking to change the law to close a loophole which allows paedophiles to legally possess written accounts of child abuse.

Sir Paul Beresford, the MP for Mole Valley, said such writing "fuels the fantasies" of offenders and could lead to the physical abuse of children.

For some child abusers "the written word is more powerful than the pictures", he told the Commons.

The MP has campaigned for a decade to tighten the law on child pornography.

Sir Paul wants to amend existing legislation so that written material is treated in the same way as indecent images, for which possession carries a maximum three-year prison term.

'Graphic image'

He told MPs a recent report by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) had mentioned the possession of graphic written accounts of abuse by some offenders.

"Some offenders not only possess and distribute and produce photographs, they possess graphic notes or writings of child abuse," he said.

"For some, the written word is more powerful than the pictures. For some, the written word promotes a graphic image in their mind."

Sir Paul said he had long been aware of a correlation "between those who possess or distribute indecent printed material of children and those who commit horrific contact offences against children".

"This written material fuels the fantasies of paedophiles which is the key factor in their offending behaviour," he added.

"Therefore I believe that we crack down on any form of indecent material in the written form so that real children can be safe from abuse."

The law would be tightly written, he insisted, to cover obscene writing of a nature "that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal".

Only "absolutely vile" material would be targeted, he said, adding by way of example that well-known novels such as Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita - which explores a middle-aged man's obsession and sexual involvement with a 12-year old girl - would not be covered.


Sir Paul, who was a minister in Sir John Major's government but has been on the backbenches since 1997, has been campaigning for ten years to tighten up laws on indecent material featuring children.

By raising issues in the Commons, amending government bills and and tabling private members' bills, he has helped change the legal definition of gross indecency with a child so that it applies to under-16s and increased the penalties for possession and distribution of indecent images of children.

He has also successfully campaigned for jail sentences for people who refuse to provide a decrypting key to allow police to inspect computers suspected of holding child pornography.

He was also involved in efforts to introduce a fast-track procedure for issuing warrants in cases where people on the sex offenders' register refuse police access to their home.

The MP's latest ten-minute rule bill was given an unopposed first reading by MPs but further progress depends on it being given sufficient parliamentary time.

The Ministry of Justice said that "as with all such issues raised in Parliament, the government will consider and respond in due course".

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