Paedophiles should not face jail for looking at pornographic images of children unless they are a physical threat to youngsters, says Britain’s most senior child protection officer.

Officers should instead focus on the most dangerous offenders who have access to youngsters or are directing abuse online, said chief constable Simon Bailey.

Taking a stance he acknowledged would horrify many, the grandfather-of-two said lower level offending should be decriminalised and dealt with through counselling and rehabilitation.

Mr Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary and lead on child protection at the National Police Chiefs Council, said an increase in reporting of sexual abuse – including historical cases – has led to the policing system reaching ‘saturation point’.