Sexual grooming crimes have soared by a third in a year as paedophiles turn to Instagram to target children as young as 11, the NSPCC has said.
Figures show that in the year to April 2019, there were 4,373 offences recorded of sexual communication with a child – an offence came into force on April 2017 – compared with 3,217 in the previous year.
The data, obtained from 43 police forces across England and Wales under Freedom of Information laws, also revealed that where age was provided, one in five victims were aged just 11 or younger.
Last year, the number of recorded instances of the use of Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, was more than double that of the previous year.
Overall in the last two years, Facebook-owned apps (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp) and Snapchat were used in more than 70 per cent of the instances where police recorded the communication method, with Instagram being used in more than a quarter of cases.
The NSPCC is now calling on Boris Johnson’s government to draw up a draft Online Harms Bill, which would introduce independent regulation of social networks, with tough sanctions if they fail to keep children safe on their platforms – as a matter of urgency.