THE number of Scots internet users seeking help to stop viewing online child abuse images has almost doubled in just one month, a specialist charity says.

Child protection charity Stop it Now! Scotland works to tackle the use such material and supports offenders to challenge their behaviour.

Around 130 people visited its Get Help website in the month to the end of June, but this rose by 80 per cent to more than 250 the following month after an awareness campaign was launched.

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The figures are revealed one day after it emerged that 17 men and one woman have been convicted of, or admitted, charges including rape, supplying drugs and inciting prostitution in connection with a child abuse network in Newcastle.

A total of 20 young women gave evidence in four trials at Newcastle Crown Court on offences which occurred from 2011-14.

Older men plied them with drugs and alcohol before raping them or pressuring them into sexual activity.

Those prosecuted were from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish communities and mainly British-born, with most living in the West End of Newcastle.

The progress of the trials was halted in October when defence barristers tried to have the cases thrown out over the existence of a police informant, who it emerged was himself a child rapist. That application failed.

John Elvidge QC, who prosecuted the cases, said: “This was a section of young women who were tricked into believing they were in the company of friends.

“They were groomed and lulled into trusting those who would ultimately abuse them.”

The operation forms part of a wider inquiry into the issue and Northumbria Police Chief Constable Steve Ashman said: “To date we have arrested 461 people, spoken to 703 potential complainants and have found 278 victims. In total we now have 93 convictions delivering more than 300 years of imprisonment in addition to today’s convictions.”

He added: “Many of us will never understand the traumatic experience some of these women and girls have endured and they have my wholehearted commitment that, together with our partners, we will continue to provide them with all the support they need.

“We have thrown the kitchen sink at this – a team of 50 officers have worked on this inquiry for almost three and a half years and continue to do so. We have not and will not stop.”

More than 1500 people visited the Stop It Now! Scotland website last year. National manager, Stuart Allardyce, said: “There are people out there who will get help to stop, but they need to know the help is there in the first place.

“We know this because we have worked with thousands of men over the years to help them understand the harm done to children by viewing online sexual images of under 18s, and to put in place measures that stop them looking at such images again.

“Many of them say they would have been less likely to start looking regularly at such images if they had only known sooner about the help that’s available to stop. That’s what this campaign is about – making people aware of the harm they are causing to children, but also making them aware there is confidential and anonymous help to stop.”

Detective Chief Inspector Martin Maclean said: “I urge anyone having inappropriate thoughts about children or thoughts about accessing inappropriate material online to get help. This campaign is focused on prevention to help individuals avoid the serious consequences they will otherwise face if they act on these thoughts.”