GROOMING crimes recorded by West Mercia Police have increased by 67 per cent in the last year, data obtained by the NSPCC has revealed.

There were 122 offences of sexual communication with a child recorded in the year to April 2019 by West Mercia Police, compared with 73 in the previous year.

The offence came into force in April 2017, following an NSPCC campaign.

The data obtained from 43 police forces in 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.

In 2018/19 in England and Wales 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 68 per cent of the instances where West Mercia Police recorded and provided the communication method. Instagram was used in a quarter of them.

The Government has indicated it will publish a draft Online Harms Bill early next year, following the NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign.

The proposals would introduce independent regulation of social networks, with tough sanctions if they fail to keep children safe on their platforms.

The NSPCC believes it is now crucial that Boris Johnson’s Government makes a public commitment to draw up these Online Harms laws and implement robust regulation for tech firms to force them to protect children as a matter of urgency.

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 NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign is calling for social media regulation to require platforms to take proactive action to identify and prevent grooming on their sites and to design young people’s accounts with the highest privacy settings.

The charity wants to see tough sanctions for tech firms that fail to protect their young users, including steep fines for companies, boardroom bans for directors, and a new criminal offence for platforms that commit gross breaches of the duty of care.