Online grooming offences in Scotland ‘up 84% in last five years’

Embargoed to 0001 Saturday December 30 File photo dated 21/08/14 of a child using a laptop computer. Only half of parents who
Embargoed to 0001 Saturday December 30 File photo dated 21/08/14 of a child using a laptop computer. Only half of parents who bought their children an internet connected gadget for Christmas will check who their children are speaking to online, new research claims.

Offences of indecent communication with children have risen by more than 80% over the past five years in Scotland, according to new figures.

The data from a Freedom of Information request by children’s charity the NSPCC found 651 offences of communicating indecently with a child recorded by Police Scotland in 2019-20.

In comparison, there were 354 such crimes in 2014-15 – an increase of 84%.

Digital communications is reserved to Westminster with the charity now calling on the Prime Minister to deliver legislation to ensure technology firms make their sites safer for children.

Andy Burrows, NSPCC head of child safety online, said: “The NSPCC’s figures show that online grooming offences in Scotland have soared by 80% in the last five years.

“This absolutely underlines why the Prime Minister Boris Johnson now has to personally commit to getting an Online Harms Bill on the statute book in the next 18 months.

“For too long, child abuse has been an inconvenient truth for tech bosses that have turned a blind eye to the risks on their site.

“That’s why it’s so important that the UK Government now steps up to keep all of our children safe.”

  • 354 in 2014-15
  • 381 in 2015-16
  • 462 in 2016-17
  • 429 in 2017-18
  • 581 in 2018-19
  • 651 in 2019-20

The Police Scotland figures indicate the force recorded 354 indecent communication with children offences in 2014-15; 381 in 2015-16; 462 in 2016-17; 429 in 2017-18, and 581 in 2018-19.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless spoke to Mr Johnson at a hidden harms roundtable last week.

He said: “Child abuse is an inconvenient truth for tech bosses who have failed to make their sites safe and enabled offenders to use them as a playground in which to groom our kids.

“Last week the Prime Minister signalled to me his determination to stand up to Silicon Valley and make the UK the world leader in online safety.

“He can do this by committing to an Online Harms Bill that puts a legal duty of care on big tech to proactively identify and manage safety risks.

“Now is the time to get regulation done and create a watchdog with the teeth to hold tech directors criminally accountable if their platforms allow children to come to serious but avoidable harm.”

Police Scotland Superintendent Tim Ross said: “We are broadly supportive of the legislative proposals to introduce an internet regulator to tackle online harms but this is a matter for Parliament to decide.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “Child sexual abuse is a sickening crime and predators who abuse children will face the full force of the law.

“Just last week the Prime Minister hosted a hidden harms summit, which brought together government and partners to drive forward action on crimes including child sexual abuse.

“We will legislate as soon as possible for a new duty of care on online companies to protect their users from illegal and harmful content.

“This will be overseen by an independent regulator with tough powers to hold them to account.”

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