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What Should I Do if I Accidentally Viewed Child Pornography?

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It goes without saying that the laws surrounding indecent material depicting children are incredibly serious and, as such, carry severe penalties and sentences.

But what happens if you have accidentally viewed child pornography? Many people may understandably be worried about the potential consequences if they are caught accidentally viewing illegal content in the UK, especially if it involves child pornography. 

In this post, we discuss what child pornography is, what the child pornography laws are in the UK, how intent is determined when viewing child pornography and what the potential penalties are.

What is Child Porn?

Child pornography refers to any indecent images or videos of children (anyone under the age of 18). Images or videos that are considered to be indecent in nature are those that generally include children with their genitals exposed or in provocative poses or explicit content such as sexual assault or molestation.

What are the laws around child porn in the UK?

In the UK, the law defines child pornography as indecent images, which means that it is strictly prohibited. An image is considered to be indecent if the following applies:

  • The content of the image is sexually provocative or pornographic in nature;
  • It focuses primarily on the child’s anal or genital areas; and
  • The content is extremely obscene or offensive

English criminal law categorises actions involving indecent images of children and treats them differently. These actions include:

  • Possession – Where someone possesses indecent images, either in a physical or digital format
  • Distribution – Where someone sends or shares digital files, and it can be established that this was intentional
  • Production – Where someone creates, edits, or otherwise produces indecent material

None of these actions necessarily cover the act of ‘viewing’ child pornography. Viewing an image can be done in many ways, which means that it may or may not amount to possession.

How is intent determined when someone has viewed child pornography?

In many instances, a single image or website being viewed by a person by accident is not what the law is aiming to prosecute. Instead, the courts want to prosecute cases where someone has exploited children for their own sexual gratification.

This means that determining intent is a major factor when it comes to deciding whether someone has accidentally viewed child pornography or accidentally searched something illegal. To bring forward a potential charge, the police need to prove that someone has knowingly viewed an image and deliberately continued to view them despite being aware of the nature of the content.

Cases can be more complex where you are found to be in possession of child pornography on one of your devices. If you suspect that an image or video has been unintentionally downloaded on a device, potentially through malware or a virus, you can speak to the police, and they will be able to check for evidence of this.

In addition to guiding you through the general process, we will make sure that the alleged indecent images are correctly and accurately categorised, medical reports (including phycological evaluations) are collated and that the potential impact on you and your family is well accounted for.

We work with a leading digital forensics provider Cyfor who can offer fast face to face expert advice on the initial forensic aspect of the police investigation. This can cost from around £500 plus VAT. The expert can advise in depth on lines of forensics the police will deploy and the likely outcome of interrogation of various platforms or devices.

What forensic evidence is gathered in child pornography cases?

Forensic experts who are tasked with investigating cases involving child pornography will typically search for various indicators that help to determine whether images or videos have come from a certain source – especially those which have been previously traded between child pornography collectors.

Forensic experts may be able to identify whether certain files have from membership sites or password protected areas of the dark web. In these instances, having membership or passwords would indicate an intent to view and possess child pornography. If viewing child pornography is truly accidental, these types of indicators will not be present.

Forensics can also determine device usage and search history, which will determine whether someone has viewed an image by accident, or if they purposefully searched for them and subsequently viewed them, or carried out any other action.

As per child porn laws, a digital forensics report will be used in court by the prosecution to show how the images were handled.

What are the potential penalties for viewing child pornography?

According to child pornography laws, the General Sentencing Council classifies indecent images into three different categories, which are:

  • Category A – Sexually explicit images of penetration, sadism or activity of a sexual nature with an animal, plus children in pain.
  • Category B – Sexually explicit images of non-penetrative activity such as masturbation, usually without the presence of an adult.
  • Category C – Images of erotic or sexually explicit posing.

The sentence someone could receive for a child pornography offence will depend on the relevant category of the indecent image.

Where the offence is possession, and there are no images of sexual activity, the guidelines suggest a starting point of a high-level community order with a range of a medium level community order to 26 weeks custody.

However, on the other end of the scale, where an offence amounts to the production of indecent images showing penetrative sexual activity, or created images showing sexual activity with an animal or sadism, the starting point is 6 years custody with a range of 4-9 years custody.

Someone who is convicted of a child pornography offence will also be required to join the Sex Offender’s Register, which could have an impact on their current and future employment prospects, well as their personal relationships.

What defences are there to viewing child pornography?

There are two statutory defences that exist under pornography laws in the UK. These are important to be aware of if you are concerned about viewing child pornography:

  • There was a legitimate reason why someone possessed indecent material. This could be if it was being stored as evidence for an unrelated crime.
  • The defendant was unaware that there were images or videos of an indecent nature on their device, such as if they were the result of malware or a virus.

Are there any aggravating factors for child pornography offences?

If someone is facing a conviction for a child pornography offence, there are a range of aggravating factors that could potentially increase the severity of the punishment they face.

For instance, aggravating factors could include, but are not limited to:

  • Previous convictions
  • If an offence took place while on bail
  • The age and vulnerability of the child depicted
  • Visible physical pain suffered by a child depicted
  • The period images were possessed, made or distributed
  • The volume of images possessed, made or distributed

Are there are mitigating factors for child pornography offences?

On the other hand, there is a range of potentially mitigating factors that could reduce the sentence someone receives for a child pornography offence. These include:

  • No prior convictions
  • Someone shows clear remorse for their actions
  • Someone showed previous good character or exemplary conduct
  • Age and/or lack of maturity
  • Mental disorders or learning disabilities

Should I speak to a solicitor if I have been accused of viewing child pornography?

Yes, absolutely. If you have been arrested on suspicion of a child pornography offence and are interviewed by the police, it is absolutely essential that you know your rights and what may or may not harm your defence.

Many people incorrectly make the assumption that, if they have been arrested, that speaking to a solicitor will be an admission of their guilt. This could not be further from the truth. Regardless of what your circumstances may be and what type of offence you are alleged to have committed, it is essential that you enlist specialist representation at the earliest opportunity. This can make all the difference when it comes to avoiding a charge or minimising penalties where conviction is unavoidable.

Our child pornography solicitors have substantial expertise in deploying all of the various defence strategies that can be used in relation to child porn law and allegations relating to indecent images. We are uniquely placed to provide the strongest possible defence for you from the outset.

Contact our child pornography defence lawyers today

For urgent specialist advice, immediate representation, or to speak to us confidentially about allegations relating to child pornography or any other type of sexual offence, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact our dedicated criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:

Or email:

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

24/7 legal representation for child pornography allegations

For immediate representation and advice on dealing with allegations of sexual offences involving children, or any other type of sexual offence, anywhere in England or Wales at any time, please contact our Emergency Number 07836 577 556.