A CHILDREN’S charity has revealed a sharp rise in the number of cyber-related sex crimes against children in the region.

The NSPCC is now demanding the next government introduce strict online safety measures to protect children, including an independent regulator to hold social media companies to account.

Last year 5,653 child sex crimes committed against children as young as three had an online element.

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In the North-East, the largest rise in the number of reported offences was in Northumbria, where they rose by 229 per cent between 2015-16 and 2016-17, from 98 to 323.

In Cleveland, they rose 163 per cent from 55 to 145 and in North Yorkshire, they rose 29 per cent, from 81 to 105.

In Durham 190 offences were recorded last year.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird said strict online safety measures to protect children were “a must”.

She added: “While the numbers are awful, they do signal a growing confidence for victims to come forward, which is encouraging.

“Speaking out takes great courage, especially if you’re young and vulnerable, but by doing so you’re taking the first step to putting those responsible behind bars – something we all want.”

Ron Hogg, Durham’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Unfortunately these figures are shocking but not surprising. Whilst the growth in modern technology brings with it great opportunities, it also brings risks and threats for both adults and children.

“We know that cyber-related crime is still under-reported. Therefore, despite showing increases, these figures are likely to understate the true extent of the problem.”

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “These figures confirm our fears that offenders are exploiting the internet to target children for their own dark deeds.

“We cannot idly sit by knowing that more and more innocent young people are being harmed online. Today’s worrying data leaves the next government with no choice but to urgently address this issue.”