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NPCC lead appears at Education Select Committee: Online harms affecting children.

As the scale of online harms affecting children in the UK continues to rise, Ian Critchley the NPCC Lead for Child Abuse and Investigation has joined professionals to further inform Government Ministers of the stark realities facing children and young people in the online realm.

On Tuesday February 19, Mr Critchley appeared at the Education Select Committee with representatives from Barnardo’s and the UK Safer Internet Centre, along with the Children's Commissioner, to outline types of harm, the scale and nature of offending and offering comment and insight on the challenges, potential solutions, and views on the Online Safety act.

It comes as figures continue to highlight the risk children are exposed to online. Last year from October 2022 to September 2023, officers in Under Cover Online Units (UCOL) across England and Wales made:

  • 1,665 arrests.
  • 1,397 children safeguarded.
  • 1,386 years custodial sentences.

Ian Critchley said: “Sessions such as these are incredibly important in discussing and informing   the next steps required   of the Online Safety Act as it is implemented. We know this new legislation will take time to implement but the public rightly expects action now to protect children from online harms. We have heard this most powerfully from courageous parents who have tragically lost their children that the talking must stop and we must see much greater intent and action from tech companies particularly around critical areas like age verification and preventing the uploading and sharing of harmful content . We also need to ensure we enhance our understanding and education for young people , parents and carers and ensure schools play a crucial role in this too.

“It was a privilege to appear before the committee today and continue the discussion on what more we can do to protect children. Adults will continue to pose the greatest risk to children online and many platforms create a gateway for predators to commit horrific crimes against children, crimes we know have lifelong impacts both emotionally and mentally.

“I am resolute in our commitment to bring offenders to justice and advising on how we can do more nationally is crucial to this. There must also be more awareness raising and education that abuse can happen online, in any home, at any time. I urge parents and carers to have what can be difficult but crucial conversations with young people to ensure they are safe and to be able to disclose any harmful behaviour in a trusted way."

In the coming months the NPCC will:

  • Increase understanding of the illegal use of virtual reality and artificial intelligence in the online space
  • Implement the UCOL national strategic delivery plan across core areas of focus
  • Accelerate industry engagement to inform and influence moderation and monitoring of platforms.