Paedophile vigilante groups uncover almost half of online grooming cases reported to police, a watchdog has found.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) said police did not give enough priority to tackling online child sexual abuse
It said the police response was generally reactive rather than proactive and warned of an increase in so-called vigilante groups.
HMICS has made ten recommendations, including that the force should undertake an online child sexual abuse “strategic threat assessment” to accurately identify the scale, nature and risk to children of such abuse.
Police Scotland said protecting children was a top priority and it would carefully consider the report.
Gillian Imery, HMICS chief inspector, said there are “real challenges” to capturing the true nature and extent of online child sexual abuse.
She said: “One of the main proactive tactics would be employing the services of undercover online specialist officers, however, this rarely happens.
“Almost half of the online grooming cases emanate from the activities of online child abuse activist groups [vigilante groups], who are unregulated and untrained.
“A more robust proactive capability on the part of Police Scotland would reduce the opportunities for these groups to operate.”
Police Scotland figures in the report showed the number of online child abuse referrals rose from 141 in 2013 to 1961 by the end of last year.
It also reports a 65% increase in the number of recorded offences of communicating indecently with a child over the period, from 359 offences in 2013-14 to 592 in 2018-19.
Deputy chief constable Malcolm Graham, lead for crime and operations at Police Scotland, said: “Cyber-enabled crime is placing an ever-increasing demand on policing in Scotland and elsewhere.
“We have introduced new processes and reprioritised our resources to identify and understand its extent and to inform our investigative response and preventative strategies.”