Online grooming offences rose during lockdown, police reveal

Online child grooming offences rose during lockdown with more than 13 crimes committed every day, with half involving Facebook apps, according to police figures. 

The number of grooming crimes increased by 13 per cent to 1,220 during the three months of lockdown, according to the data obtained by the children’s charity NSPCC, with Facebook-owned Instagram seeing a 40 per cent rise in its share of the offences by suspected paedophiles.

Writing for The Telegraph online, Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, urged Boris Johnson to accelerate duty of care laws to hold tech companies and bosses “financially and criminally responsible if they continue to turn a blind eye to entirely avoidable harm”. 

In a letter to Boris Johnson, Mared Parry, who was groomed online aged 14, said the failure of social media giants to design protections into their sites meant it was getting easier for criminals to create and share paedophilic images, as more children live streamed and video chatted in the pandemic.

The figures show Facebook-owned apps, including WhatsApp, accounted for 51 per cent of the cases where a site was mentioned.

Instagram is increasingly being exploited by offenders and was used in 37 per cent of grooming cases where the platform was recorded, compared with 29 per cent over the previous three years.

Snapchat was used in 20 per cent of instances for which data was available.

Offences have also increased annually in the three years prior to lockdown. There were a total of 12,925 offences recorded by police in England and Wales from April 2017 to March 2020 (equivalent to 12 a day) with experts saying poorly designed social media sites are putting children at risk.

Mr Wanless warned the pandemic had created a “perfect storm” for online offenders and believed the lockdown figures could mark the start of a surge in online grooming crimes.

With ongoing coronavirus restrictions across the UK, he feared that the risk of online abuse will continue to spike, and many more offences may come to light when children report them at school.

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