Coronavirus: Norfolk police chief issues online sex offender warning

Simon Bailey, Norfolk Constabulary's chief constable. Picture: Archant

Simon Bailey, Norfolk Constabulary's chief constable. Picture: Archant - Credit: Steve Adams

Norfolk’s chief constable has warned parents that paedophiles might be poised to exploit the current coronavirus crisis by targeting child victims who find themselves off school.

With schools having closed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak more and more children throughout the county find themselves increasingly online in a bid to keep up with school work while parents are working from home.

But the National Crime Agency (NCA) released new figures revealing that up to 300,000 offenders now pose a sexual threat to children online across the country during the virus pandemic.

Simon Bailey, Norfolk’s chief constable, who is also the national policing lead for child protection, said the numbers of those presenting a threat to youngsters online had gone up from between 66,000 and 80,000 which represented a “really significant uplift”.

He said: “That’s a huge uplift and its of course a huge concern that there are that many people having a sexual interest in children.

“At this particular time my concerns are then further exacerbated because we’re now in a situation where we’ve got children at home.

“They are not in the safe environment of a school and of course they are going to be using technology and there are some significant risks.”

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The NCA and UK police already arrest more than 500 child sex offenders and safeguard around 700 children each month, but those numbers could rise in the pandemic.

Mr Bailey said it was vital parents understood the risks and urged them to ensure there were the appropriate security measures on the devices.

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He also asked parents to be “appropriately curious” and interested in their child’s online habits.

He said: “Parents shouldn’t think it’s not going to happen to me and my children.

“We just have to be so careful and we all have a responsibility to understand what our children and grandchildren are doing online and that they understand the potential risk”.

The NCA and the National Police Chiefs’ Council have launched a campaign called ‘#OnlineSafetyAtHome’ providing activities to help parents educate their children about safeguarding.

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