Huge rise in web sex pest cases

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Parents are being warned of the dangers of social networking after a surge in the number of reported sexual grooming incidents to police in the county.

Over a period of only four years the number of referrals received a month by police for online child exploitation has soared from about four a month in 2008 to 25 a month last year.

While senior police officers say this figure is partly down to a newly-set up specialist unit and improved reporting procedures, they accept the number of incidents has increased.

The figures come in the same month Liam Shields, 29, of Stanton Close, Desborough, is to be sentenced for grooming children over the internet.

Det Insp Dave Warnes has called on parents to be more aware of their children’s online activity.

He said: “Parents should make sure their children when going online are not revealing their details to strangers.

“They don’t need to be nosey, but they can sit down and explain the dangers and ensure they remain safe.

“I’d ask children ‘would you walk down the street shouting out your personal details to everyone?’”

Facebook has set a minimum age for users of 13, and Det Insp Warnes believes the company offers a good guideline for parents.

In 2011, the force brought four people before the court under sexual grooming charges, although others were summoned for other offences such as sexual assaults.

Det Insp Warnes said the offenders, who come from all walks of life, can prey on children as young as nine.

They pretend to be someone else, building up trust over a period of time before revealing their true identity.

Det Insp Warnes is part of the four-member online and exploitation team set up last year.

He said: “We are getting better because we have a dedicated team and the issue has become more in the public eye.”

Children, parents or friends concerned should contact county-based registered charity Can on 08450 556246 or police on 03000 111222.