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Child sexual grooming crimes up 70 per cent in region

By Deborah Hardiman | Crime | Published:

Sexual grooming crimes recorded by Shropshire’s police force went up by almost 70 per cent in the last year.

West Mercia Police handled 122 offences of sexual communication with a child between April 2018 and April 2019, compared with 73 in the previous year.

Since 2017, apps including Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat were used in 68 per cent of the instances where officers recorded and provided the communication method used.

Instagram was used in a quarter of incidents listed by the force.

The NSPCC has published the figures as part of efforts to put pressure on the government to introduce tougher regulations, after it claimed that nationally, record numbers of children were being targeted on high-profile social media networks.

It wants wants to see sanctions for technology firms that fail to protect young users, including steep fines for companies, boardroom bans for directors and a new criminal offence for web platforms that commit gross breaches of the duty of care.

Cases heard at Shrewsbury Crown Court included Cian Creagh, 19, of Wem, who was sentenced to 28 months in youth detention in January for pressuring young girls to send him nude photos of themselves. He had set up social media accounts using pseudonyms to befriend his victims who were aged 11 to 15.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “It’s now clearer than ever that Government has no time to lose in getting tough on these tech firms.

Forced

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“Despite the huge amount of pressure that social networks have come under to put basic protections in place, children are being groomed and abused on their platforms every single day.

“These figures are yet more evidence that social networks simply won’t act unless they are forced to by law.

“The Government needs to stand firm and bring in regulation without delay.”

The data obtained from 43 police forces in England and Wales also revealed that, where age was provided, one in five victims were aged just 11 or younger.

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West Mercia has been approached for a response.

There are plans for a draft Online Harms Bill in the new year following the charity’s Wild West Web campaign.

In England and Wales a total of 4,373 offences were recorded in the year to April 2019 compared with 3,217 in the previous year. The offence came into force two years ago following a NSPCC campaign.

The charity is calling on social media sites to take proactive action to identify and prevent grooming on their sites by:

  • Using artificial intelligence to detect suspicious behaviour
  • Sharing data with other platforms to better understand the methods offenders use
  • Switching off friend suggestion algorithms for children and young people, to reduce the risk of attracting offenders
  • Design young people’s accounts with the highest privacy settings.
Deborah Hardiman

By Deborah Hardiman
@Deborahh_Star

Senior reporter for the Shropshire Star based out of the head office in Ketley. Covering the Telford area.

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