Fewer than a FIFTH of paedophiles caught watching online child abuse were sent to jail last year.
Campaigners have accused courts of going soft on web perverts after figures showed a THIRD of offenders were caged a decade ago.
The alarming drop-off was uncovered by a Sunday Mirror Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice.
It revealed just 585 of the 3,245 paedophiles convicted of possessing obscene images of children ended up behind bars in 2021 – the smallest proportion since changes to child protection laws in 2008.
A total of 1,540 received a suspended sentence for the crime, while 867 were given community punishment, such as unpaid work and probation sessions.
Shockingly, 19 were given a conditional discharge – effectively a ‘slap on the wrist’ – while 26 were fined.
The figures were yesterday blasted by critics who warned child abuse watchers can go on to commit even worse crimes against youngsters. At least two of Britain’s most notorious child killers in the past decade watched child porn online before committing their crimes.
Mark Bridger, who killed five-year-old April Jones in Wales in 2012, was
said to be obsessed with images of child abuse, as was fellow murderer Stuart Hazell, who suffocated 12-year-old Tia Sharpe in South London in 2013.
Victoria Green, head of the Marie Collins Foundation which supports online child abuse victims, said: “We are concerned custody rates are falling. Survivors deserve an answer.”
David Spencer, from the Centre for Crime Prevention think-tank, added: “People will be shocked that thousands convicted of this despicable offence have been allowed back on to the street.
“The MoJ needs to take a fresh look at sentencing guidelines.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “As a result of our sentencing reforms and a police crackdown, the worst offenders are spending a quarter longer behind bars than five years ago.”