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Big rise in West Mercia child grooming cases

By Dominic Robertson | Telford | Crime | Published:

Child grooming offences have risen sharply, new figures from West Mercia Police reveal today.

Between April and December last year West Mercia officers recorded 89 grooming offences in the force area, compared to 20 offences recorded in the same period for the previous year.

Today the NSPCC called for action over the regulation of social online chatrooms and networks.

The children’s charity said it wants more to be done to tackle the issue of grooming through social media.

The new offence of sexual communication with a child is thought to be a factor in the increase in offences, which reflects a national rise.

The NSPCC call for action comes as Telford & Wrekin Council is preparing to launch its own inquiry into child sexual exploitation in the borough, including the issue of grooming.

Tony Stower, NSPCC head of child safety online said more should be done to regulate the use of social networks.

He said: “These thousands of crimes show the sheer scale of grooming, where predators have either messaged their victim or gone on to meet them in person.

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“At present our Government is only prepared to tackle grooming after the harm has been done, and its forthcoming Internet Safety Strategy has no plans to prevent grooming from happening in the first place.

“Culture Secretary Matt Hancock could change this and bring an end to the Wild West Web. I urge him to bring in regulation for social networks, backed by an independent regulator with teeth.”

The charity wants a mandatory safety code to regulate social networks and help prevent grooming.

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Earlier this month the NSPCC said that Facebook and Facebook-owned apps, Instagram and Whatsapp, were used in 52 per cent of online grooming cases where police disclosed which methods were used by suspects.

Whatsapp has now announced that it plans to raise the age at which people can use the social network to 16 in the EU.

The youngest child to be targeted in the first nine months of the new offence of Sexual Communication with a Child, was just two years old.

Antigone Davis, global head of safety at Facebooksaid they would keep working with experts to tackle people who illegally use the platform.

She said: "We have zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation on Facebook. We have the technology to scan images on Facebook and flag known child exploitative material so we can quickly remove it.

"Together, our comprehensive reporting system and work with law enforcement officials including CEOP, help build cases to bring criminals to justice. We’ll continue to work with experts including the Internet Watch Foundation and the UK Safer Internet Centre to develop powerful tools to keep this illegal activity off Facebook.”

A spokesman for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said they are working with the industry but would bring in laws if required.

He said: "Through the Internet Safety Strategy, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport is currently pursuing an approach of working closely with industry to encourage solutions that will increase online safety in the UK. But we are prepared to bring in new laws and fines if significant progress is not made to make platforms safer."

A Home Office spokesman added: "Online grooming is an appalling crime that this Government is committed to stamping out. We are clear that what is illegal offline is illegal online.

“We have provided law enforcement with the capabilities and resources they need to identify grooming victims and bring offenders to justice. Last year, we provided police forces in England and Wales with more than £20 million to enable dedicated officers to operate online in forums and chat rooms, to identify and pursue offenders.

“But tech companies have to take all steps possible to prevent their platforms being used to abuse and exploit children and the Home Secretary has been clear that technology companies need to take on the challenge of online grooming."

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