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Grooming gangs to be put under spotlight in new Home Office strategy to combat record levels of child abuse

Charles Hymas
·3-min read
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TELEMMGLPICT000236025534.jpeg

Detailed data about child grooming gangs is to be collected by police to help identify and convict offenders as part of a new child abuse strategy.

The Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy aims to identify and convict offenders who operate in groups by gathering more information about their characteristics, including ethnicity.

It also involves investing in the national child abuse image database to identify offenders more quickly, protecting police from frequently being exposed to indecent images, and enabling parents to ask officers if someone with access to their child is known to them for cases of abuse.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said some who had suffered child sexual abuse had told her they felt "let down by the state", and insisted she was "determined to put this right".

Rob Jones, a National Crime Agency (NCA) director, welcomed the initiative "at a time when the threat to children is more severe than it has ever been", highlighting that last year there were at least 300,000 people posing a sexual threat to children in the UK.

He said the NCA was focusing on the most dangerous offenders "as part of the whole system approach".

"Many feel they can operate with impunity online - using anonymisation techniques, secure accounts and the dark web - but as we have shown with this operation they are wrong and we have the capabilities to track them down," he said.

Mr Jones added: "These are not just images or videos being viewed online. "What we are uncovering here is evidence of the horrific, real-world sexual abuse of children."

It came as the NCA revealed Some 320 of the UK's most dangerous child sex offenders have been arrested since the first coronavirus lockdown.

Investigators have been focusing on tracking down offenders who operate online. The operation led to a total of 4,760 arrests and 6,500 children safeguarded between April and September last year.

Out of the 320 arrested as part of the NCA's operation targeting the UK's most dangerous child sex offenders, 122 were targeted by NCA officers.

Seventeen were in positions of trust, including a volunteer with the Scouts, church youth group leaders, a social worker, primary school and college teachers, a hospital care assistant, a police officer, and a civil servant.

In the year ending March 2020 the NCA and UK policing made 7,212 arrests and safeguarded and protected 8,329 children. This was a 50 per cent increase in arrests and a 10 per cent increase in safeguards compared with the year ending March 2019.

NSPCC Chief Executive Sir Peter Wanless said: “This strategy rightly puts the emphasis on early intervention and action across Government. It must be backed up with serious investment in support for victims, including Child House models that prioritise the best interests of children by joining services up under one roof.

“It’s crucial that no young person is left unprotected, which is why it’s disappointing the Government has not committed to closing the legal loophole that enables some adults to abuse their position of power to have sexual contact with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care.”