INSTAGRAM was the most used platform in child grooming crimes during lockdown in Wales, being used by offenders in a quarter of cases where the platform was recorded, research by the NSPCC suggests.

New data shows there were 133 online grooming crimes recorded in Wales against children in the three months from April to June, with the true scale of the problem likely to be much higher.

In the Dyfed-Powys Police area, covering Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Powys, 11 offences were recorded.

Freedom of Information responses from all four police forces in the country reveal how the number of offences of Sexual Communication with a Child recorded in the first three months of lockdown, brings the total number of crimes in Wales above 1,000 since the offence was first introduced in April 2017.

A total off 99 of those offences were recorded in the Dyfed-Powys Police area.

The figures have led to renewed calls for Boris Johnson to get tough on tech firms that fail to do enough to prevent offenders exploiting their sites to abuse children, and for Welsh Government to hold him to account if not.

During the first three months of lockdown, Facebook-owned apps (Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp) were used in 29 per cent of instances in Wales where the means of communication was recorded. Snapchat was used in 15 per cent of instances for which data was available.

The NSPCC warned the pandemic had created a perfect storm for online offenders and believe these figures could highlight the start of a surge in online grooming crimes, with experts saying poorly designed social media sites are putting children at risk.

Former Cardiff University student, Mared Parry from North Wales was 14 when she was groomed online by men who manipulated her into sending sexual images of herself.

“At 14, when I received these sexual messages, I almost felt it was exciting, like I was doing something naughty and that I shouldn’t tell my parents. I didn’t feel like I could speak to adults about it because I thought I’d get into trouble for talking about sex with a guy. I was embarrassed about my parents finding out,” said Mared.

“Looking back now, it’s scary to think that I sent semi-naked pictures to older guys. It could have gone a lot further. Some of my friends lived closer to the men who were messaging them and ended up just meeting the guys at their houses and sleeping with them. Like me, they were only 14 or 15 and the boys who had contacted them were in their 20s. The girls thought they were in relationships.”

With coronavirus restrictions still in place across Wales, the NSPCC believes that the risk of online abuse will continue to spike, and many more offences may come to light when children report them at school.

The new data comes as the Prime Minister makes vital decisions about online harms legislation that will create a Duty of Care on tech firms, with an announcement expected within weeks.

The NSPCC wants the upcoming Online Harms Bill to compel firms to consider child protections when they design their sites to prevent harm rather than react once the damage is done.

Policy and Public Affairs Manager at NSPCC Cymru, Cecile Gwilym says: “Families have long paid the price for big tech’s failure to protect children from abuse, but the Prime Minister has the chance to turn the tide and put responsibility on firms to clean up the mess they created.

“As the pandemic intensifies the threat children face online, bold and ambitious action is needed in the form of a world-leading Online Harms Bill.”

Anyone concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC Helpline for advice on 0808 800 5000. Adult victims of non-recent sexual abuse can also get in touch for support.

Childline is available for young people on 0800 1111 or at