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An investigation by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) into online child sexual abuse and exploitation found the response from the police often leaves youngsters vulnerable and allows offenders to escape justice.

HMICFRS inspected 6 police force areas, not including West Mercia, 2 Regional Organised Crime Units and the National Crime Agency.

Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion said: “The latest HMICFRS report into online child sexual abuse and exploitation has shone a dark light on cases of police in-action across the country.

“Some of the incidents referenced in the report make shocking reading with a number of police forces being too slow and their response, simply inadequate. It should not take up to 18 months to make an arrest after becoming aware a child is at risk of abuse.

“While I welcome the internet and its power to give people a wealth of information at their fingertips, it is also a place which needs stronger regulation by online providers and greater police capacity to bring cyber-criminals to justice.”

The report also highlighted that officers and staff respond quickly to pursue suspects and protect children when high-risk was identified but forces are often not properly responding to allegations or concerns about suspects, leading to “unacceptable delays and missed opportunities”.

The PCC added: “Locally, I have received reassurance from the Chief Constable that West Mercia Police is taking all forms of child sexual exploitation seriously with swift action against those seeking to exploit the most vulnerable in our communities.

“There are also three recommendations in the report for PCCs. One recommendation calls on PCCs to make sure services they commission for children are available for young people affected by online sexual abuse and exploitation.

“In West Mercia, I am funding the Branch and Purple Leaf services to support young people who are victims of child sexual exploitation, in all of its forms, to cope and recover.

“I also fund support and education provision for young people who may be at risk of harm and who may be causing harm in relation to child sexual exploitation.”