The number of recorded grooming crimes in Dorset more than doubled over a year, figures show.

Data acquired by the NSPCC reveals that there were a total of 84 recorded offences of sexual communication with a child in the year to April 2019. In the previous year there were 37 offences.

There was also an increase nationwide, with 4,373 offences being reported in England and Wales in the year to April 2019 – up from 3,217. The data also showed that one in five victims were aged 11 or younger.

These figures were obtained through a series of Freedom of Information requests to 43 police forces in England and Wales by the NSPCC. The offence of grooming came into force on April 3, 2017.

Social media services such as Snapchat and apps owned by Facebook – including Facebook itself, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp – were used in more than 70 per cent of instances where the communication method was recorded by the police. Almost half of these involved Instagram.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: "It’s now clearer than ever that Government has no time to lose in getting tough on these tech firms.

"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 government has suggested it could publish the Online Harms Bill early next year, which would bring in independent regulation of social media sites and enact stronger penalties on those that fail to protect children.

One parent of a grooming victim said: "It was such a violation and he was so persistent. He knew she was 12, but he kept bombarding her with texts and explicit videos and images. My daughter didn’t even understand what she was looking at.

"Our children should be safe in their bedrooms, but they’re not. They should be safe from messages from strangers if their accounts are on private, but they’re not."

The NSPCC is promoting its Wild West Web campaign, which calls for greater social media regulation. It recommends using AI, sharing data with other platforms and turning off friend suggestion algorithms for children as measures to crack down on online grooming.

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