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Social media used to groom children young as six

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CHILDREN as young as six in Wales have been targeted across an array of online platforms in the first year following the introduction of anti-grooming laws.

A law of Sexual Communication with a Child came into effect in England and Wales on April 3, 2017, after an NSPCC campaign, and in the first year a total of 3,171 crimes were recorded by police forces – amounting to nine grooming offences per day.

A total of 274 offences were recorded across the four Welsh police forces in the same period.

More than half of the offences in Wales were logged by South Wales Police (158) with 53 in North Wales and 44 in the Gwent force area.

Dyfed-Powys Police supplied data for the period between October 2017 and April 2018 when 19 offences were recorded.

In Wales, grooming offences were recorded on 23 different platforms, with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat comprising the top three most-commonly used with more than 120 taking place using those platforms alone.

Ninety-one crimes were reported in Wales against boys and girls aged between 12 and 15, while 56 offences were recorded against children aged 11 and under. The youngest victim recorded was just six years old.

Following the NSPCC’s #WildWestWeb campaign, the UK Government’s digital secretary Matt Hancock announced that laws will be brought in to regulate social networks, to keep children safe and prevent harms such as grooming.

The charity is now campaigning to ensure those laws are sufficiently robust to prevent grooming and to truly keep children safe.

It is calling on Government Create mandatory safety rules that social networks are legally required to follow; Establish an independent regulator to enforce safety laws and fine non-compliant sites; Require social media sites to publish annual safety reports; Force platforms to develop technology to detect grooming using algorithms.

It comes ahead of the charity’s annual flagship conference How Safe Are Our Children? which begins on Wednesday June 20 in London and has the theme Growing Up Online.

Contact offences such as rape and sexual assault were among those recorded in connection with grooming offences.

Mared Parry, from North Wales, was sent sexual messages from men 10 years older than her on Facebook when she was aged just 14.

Mared, who has waived her right to anonymity, was groomed to send semi-naked pictures to them.

She said: “At the beginning it was messages like ‘Hey, how are you?’ But as the weeks went on, they started sending messages that were more and more sexual. It was so subtle; that’s why it is so easy for an online chat to slip into being so wrong.

“If I didn’t reply or speak the way they wanted me to, then they would say: ‘You’re just too immature for me’. They were so manipulative, but you don’t even notice it.

“Looking back at it now, it’s scary to think that I sent semi-naked pictures to older guys. It could have gone a lot further.”

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “These numbers are far higher than we had predicted, and every single sexual message from an adult to a child can have a huge impact for years to come.

“Social networks have been self-regulated for a decade and it’s absolutely clear that children have been harmed as a result.

“I urge digital secretary Matt Hancock to follow through on his promise and introduce safety rules backed up in law and enforced by an independent regulator with fining powers.

“Social networks must be forced to design extra protections for children into their platforms, including algorithms to detect grooming to prevent abuse from escalating.”

In Wales, NSPCC Cymru has called for the Welsh Government to co-ordinate and progress efforts to keep children as safe in their online worlds as they are offline.

Last year, Welsh Government announced plans to produce a children and young persons’ online safety action plan.

The NSPCC hopes it will deliver practical help and support for schools, parents and others in Wales involved in child protection online when it is published.

How Safe Are Our Children? takes place at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, in Westminster, London on June 20-21.

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Heroin could be linked to Aberysytwyth supply

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A LIVERPOOL man has admitted possessing heroin that could be linked to drugs supplied in Aberystwyth.

Jack English, aged 20, pleaded guilty to possessing a quantity of heroin with intent to supply when he appeared at Swansea Crown ccourt for a plea and trial preparation hearing before Judge Keith Thomas.

The court heard the drugs could also be linked to English’s father, who had been a heroin user who had ‘gone to Aberystwyth on many occasions’ and who had died since his son’s arrest in October 2017.

Judge Thomas said he would sentence English on January 11.

English, of Storrington Road, was granted bail meanwhile but warned that a jail sentence was the most likely outcome.

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Mark Drakeford named next First Minister

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THE NEXT First Minister of Wales will be Mark Drakeford, it has been announced this afternoon (Dec 6).

Mr Drakeford, a Cardiff West AM, was named as the winner of the Welsh Labour leadership contest at the Principality Stadium.

The contest was triggered when Carwyn Jones, the current First Minister, announced he was stepping down.

Mr Jones will officially step down on Tuesday (Dec 10).

Mr Drakeford will then be officially confirmed as the new First Minister of Wales by the National Assembly next week.

In the first round of voting, the results were:

Mark Drakeford – 46.9%
Vaughan Gething – 30.8%
Eluned Morgan – 22.3%

Eluned Morgan’s votes were then redistributed on voters’ second preferences, with the following results:

Mark Drakeford – 53.9%
Vaughan Gethin – 46.1%

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Met Office issue yellow weather warning for Friday morning

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THE MET OFFICE has warned of strong winds and heavy rain across South and West Wales as they have issued a yellow weather warning for rain on Friday (Dec 7).

Between 1am and 9am, spells of rain, heavy at times and accompanied by windy weather, are likely to produce 20-40mm of rain.

Coming after some recent wet weather, this rain is likely to lead to some temporary flooding impacts before the rain clears early Friday morning.

The Met Office are warning people that flooding of a few homes and business is likely, bus and train services, as well as roads, will probably be affected, with journey times taking longer.

Natural Resources Wales also has a flood alert in place in Pembrokeshire. Due to restrictions at the tidal outfall, river levels in the River Ritec in the Salterns area of Tenby are likely to remain high for a number of days.

River levels are rising slightly as each high tide arrives. The combination of ground conditions, existing river levels and forecast rainfall quantities gives a high risk of flooding of low-lying land during the next couple of days.

This comes a week after Yellow Weather Warnings were issued across Wales as Storm Diana brought extreme winds and heavy rain to the country.

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