Paedophiles caught in undercover stings by vigilantes are to face tougher charges under new rules being introduced by prosecutors.
Scores of potential sex abusers have been snared by so called paedophile hunters who pose as children online in order to catch them as they try to groom youngsters.
But there has been mounting concern that those who are prosecuted are being treated too leniently because there is no actual child victim involved.
However the Crown Prosecution Service has announced that offenders who are duped by the police or vigilantes are now to be charged as if there is an identifiable child victim.
The maximum sentence for people convicted is 14-years.
Sue Hemming, the CPS director of legal services, said: “The CPS regularly updates its guidance to ensure we are consistent, robust and alert to the changing nature of crime.
“We know the online grooming of children is a huge area of concern for the public and for parents in particular.
“Anyone thinking of taking that first dreadful step of trying to contact a child for sex needs to know – from that moment on – they face very serious charges.
“The charge will be the same regardless of who they are in fact communicating with.”