SEX offenders are increasingly using the web to target children, new figures have revealed.

A record number of child sex offences recorded by Thames Valley Police last year contained an online element, according to the NSPCC.

Crimes of this nature increased by 22 per cent in 2018/19 with 369 offences recorded, compared to 303 the year before.

The charity is now calling on the next Prime Minister to stand firm against industry lobbying by prioritising online safety and bringing in laws that deliver a change in protection against abuse.

It fears the figures may not reveal the true extent of the problem due to potential under-recording and variation in the way police forces log crimes.

It comes ahead of the NSPCC’s flagship annual conference How Safe Are Our Children? which begins today in London.

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This is being held days before the Government closes its consultation on its Online Harms White Paper, which proposes to introduce an independent regulator to enforce a legal duty of care on tech companies to keep users safe.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO, said: “Behind each offence is a child suffering at the hands of sex offenders and, worryingly, we know these figures are the tip of the iceberg.

“Far too many children are drowning in a sea of online threats so it’s now time for the next Prime Minister, whoever he may be, to cast out the life jacket.

“He must hold his nerve and introduce an independent regulator to protect children from the risks of abuse and harmful content.”