ADULTS who download indecent images of children may require mental health treatment rather than face criminal charges, a leading police inspector has said.
Stephen Whitelock, a lifelong police officer and a senior inspector of Police Scotland, said police, health and social services risk being overwhelmed by the growing number of sex offenders and questioned whether all suspected paedophiles should be treated as criminals.
Mr Whitelock insisted that people who access illegal abuse images were not all a risk to children and should not necessarily be classed as paedophiles. 
National procedures for managing violent and sex offenders currently work well, but will need to respond to changes in the behaviour of offenders, said the former deputy director general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency.
It came as a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Scotland (HMICS) found that, of 10 improvements demanded by inspectors two years ago, only four have been achieved. 
The joint HMICS and Care Inspectorate report found that a crucial database that allows social workers and police to share information about individuals who pose a serious risk to the public is not being used effectively, and the pace of progress remains slow. 
Meanwhile, social workers are not always able to monitor the use of social media by sex offenders in the community due to a lack of equipment and training.
Mr Whitelock, a senior HMICS inspector, said the “staggering” number of convicted sex offenders would heap unbearable pressure on the system in the coming years.
“According to the National Crime Agency, 50,000 individuals in the UK have downloaded indecent images of children,” he said. “That could mean we need to manage 5,000 to 10,000 people in Scotland. You can criminalise everybody who downloads an indecent image of a child and put them in the sex offender programme, or you can look at other options such as more diversionary techniques.
“But not every sex offender is a paedophile and some of those on the sex offender register are very low level in terms of risk. 
“We need to have a national conversation about this. If a person downloads one image of a child are they a paedophile? Or do we view it more as a health issue?”
Between 2012 and 2015 the 
number of registered sex offenders in Scotland rose by almost 1,000 to 4,787. 
Mr Whitelock said that this, along with a change in the profile and behaviour of sex offenders, meant police and social workers needed to adapt their approach.
“The Scottish Prison Service is holding sex offenders in their 50s, 60s and 70s,” he said. 
“They are going to come back 
into the community and need accommodation. They may need ground floor-flats, or will have 
to go into care homes or nursing homes, when they potentially still pose a risk,”