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Eight charged under Northern Ireland grooming law as charity slams Westminster delay

By Staff Reporter

Twenty people have been arrested after a law was introduced in Northern Ireland making it illegal for an adult to send sexual communications to a child.

Figures obtained by the NSPCC show that, since the law to prevent grooming was implemented by the Assembly last February, the PSNI has made 20 arrests, eight of which have led to charges.

Similar legislation was previously implemented in Scotland, and in the last six years the authorities there have recorded 1,537 offences.

This is in stark contrast to England and Wales, as the children's charity is accusing Westminster of dragging its feet over the law, which would arm police with the same powers as their counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland to tackle abuse.

More than 50,000 people joined the NSPCC's Flaw in the Law campaign, which promoted the new legislation.

In 2015 the UK Parliament put a new offence on the statute book in England and Wales, meaning an adult would be breaking the law if they sent a sexual communication to a child aged under 16.

But the NSPCC has questioned why Westminster has yet to trigger the law already being successfully used to catch abusers in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

ChildLine figures also show the number of counselling sessions for youngsters worried about online sexual abuse rose last year (2015-16) by 24% to 3,716 across the UK.

In Northern Ireland, 165 children got in touch with the helpline about online sexual abuse.

The true figure of incidents is likely to be higher.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless has written to UK Justice Secretary Liz Truss asking why the law has been delayed in England and Wales, and demanding it is put into force immediately.

He said: "This new offence was supposed to mean the law could be brought to bear on anyone who grooms children online.

"The public have backed our campaign, Parliament has agreed to it, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland young victims are bravely coming forward and beginning to reveal the sickening numbers of adults targeting children for abuse."

Head of the NSPCC in Northern Ireland, Neil Anderson, said: "The figures released today show the importance of the implementation of this law.

"Very simply, it has resulted in the protection of children from abuse, and in Northern Ireland we can see that arrests have already been made.

"We are also seeing the number of children worried about online sexual abuse rising year on year with ChildLine."

Mr Anderson added: "It is something that needs tackled now, and it is extremely worrying that across England and Wales, police are still powerless to take action to protect children who are increasingly being targeted by abusers online.

"The public have backed our campaign, and the law must now be implemented across the rest of the UK so children are better protected wherever they live."

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