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Call for MP Matt Hancock to introduce social media code as grooming offences soar

Matt Hancock MP''Picture Mark Westley
Matt Hancock MP''Picture Mark Westley

West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has called for technology firms to tackle online grooming, after it was revealed the number of incidents in Suffolk had soared.

Since 2013/14 there have been 132 grooming crimes in the county, prompting the NSPCC to launch a campaign calling for the culture secretary to regulate social media to help prevent such incidents.

In Suffolk, 56 grooming crimes were recorded last year alone, with 31 in 2016/17, 35 in 2015/2016, four in 2014/2015 and six in 2013/2014.

The NSPCC’s #WildWestWeb campaign is calling on culture secretary Matt Hancock to introduce a mandatory safety code to regulate social networks to keep children safe online and help prevent grooming.

Mr Hancock is in the process of drawing up an internet safety strategy, but it is expected to bring in a voluntary social media safety code including no plans to prevent grooming.

Tony Stower, NSPCC head of child safety online, said: “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. I urge him to bring in regulation for social networks, backed by an independent regulator with teeth.”

Mr Hancock said: “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. Tech companies have to take all steps possible to prevent their platforms being used to abuse and exploit children and Government has been clear that technology companies need to take on the challenge of online grooming.”

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