CYBER-RELATED sex crimes against children under the age of 18 have increased by 34 per cent in Hampshire, figures have revealed.

Children’s charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has highlighted the sharp rise in sex offenders targeting children online between 2017/18 and 2018/19.

Police are required by law to add a ‘cyber flag’ to any child sexual offences that involved the internet in some capacity, such as online grooming, or using the internet to meet a child.

In Hampshire, there were 131 recorded sexual offences against children that had a cyber flag attached in 2018/19. This number has risen from 98 in 2017/18.

The NSPCC is now calling on the next prime minister, due to be elected next month, to stand firm against industry lobbying by prioritising online safety in law-making.

The NSPCC says the number of sex offences against children has doubled in the last four years across England, Wales and Northern Ireland since police began recording whether a crime had an internet element with a cyber flag.

For offences where the age was recorded, 13 was the most common age of the victim, but there were 185 offences committed against children aged ten and under, even including babies yet to reach their first birthday.

The NSPCC fears that the figures may not reveal the true extent of the problem due to potential under-recording.

The figures have been revealed just 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 on their platforms.

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