Police have warned they are dealing with a “staggering” number of paedophiles grooming children online.
Suspected child abusers are being arrested every single day in Lancashire – with child sexual exploitation referrals rocketing 85 per cent on the Fylde coast.
A dedicated team of detectives set up to police the internet are identifying a huge number of paedophiles in the county, according to a senior officer.
Det Chief Supt Ian Critchley said he was “proud” of the work being done to tackle the record number of cases being referred to police, after bosses spent £1m to help tackle online abuse.
It follows a report from police watchdog HM Inspectorate of Constabulary that found forces around the country need to do more to keep children safe.
Lancashire Police received a record 468 referrals for child sexual exploitation between January and March – more than five a day.
What we want is to eradicate it, educate and work with young people to reduce vulnerability.Det Chief Supt Critchley
Of those, 185 were in the force’s West division, which includes the Fylde coast, Lancaster and Morecambe.
In 2014/15 there were a total of 564 referrals in the division, compared to 305 in 2012/13.
Det Chief Supt Critchley, the force’s head of crime, said: “I am staggered by the number of people we are identifying, both locally and nationally, who are viewing, sharing or grooming young people online.
“It is a sad aspect of our society.”
While police recorded crime has fallen, force bosses say the demand on its officers – particularly around safeguarding vulnerable people – has increased dramatically.
Sexual offences against children have gone up by 20 per cent since 2012, and child sexual exploitation referrals are up by a quarter.
At the same time, officers are managing around 1,700 sexual and violent offenders living in the county.
Det Chief Supt Critchley said child abuse has a “devastating” impact not just on the victim and their family but also on the friends and relatives of the offender.
He added: “The impact on a child can last a life-time. The human cost is staggering.
“Almost every single day in Lancashire we are going out with a warrant to arrest and search suspected offenders for online offences.
“What we want is to eradicate it, educate and work with young people to reduce vulnerability.”
The HMIC report said:
n ‘Despite the commitment and dedication of many officers and staff, we found the police response to children who have been the victims of online sexual exploitation requires improvement’; and
n Technological advances mean ‘designing an effective police response is undoubtedly more challenging’.
Focusing on Lancashire, it added:
n ‘It was unclear if there were sufficient staff’ to review intelligence; and
n ‘There was no formal process in place to make sure that police information was regularly reviewed’.
But while the HMIC report published yesterday highlights fears over the impact of reduced staff number in Lancashire, as Government cuts have seen the force lose more than 700 officers since 2010, bosses say child protection remains a “key priority”.
Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw said: “We are committed to rooting it out and stopping it from happening.
“We need to ensure we have got the resources in place.
“To make sure we do not have a backlog of cases we have taken £1m out of the reserves.”
The money has helped extra staff and equipment to tackle the surge in demand.