A GOVERNMENT minister has said identity cards for young people could be one way of keeping children safe on the internet.

However, Meg Hillier MP said it was also very important for parents and teenagers to be aware of the risks they take when using social networking sites.

Ms Hillier, who is parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Home Office, was speaking yesterday at the opening of the new offices for the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) at Morton Palms, in Darlington.

Loading article content

The ISA is responsible for vetting – and possibly, barring – people who are wanting to work with young children or vulnerable adults.

This week, Peter Chapman, a convicted sex offender, was jailed for 35 years for raping and murdering Ashleigh Hall, a 17-year-old girl from Darlington.

Chapman befriended Ashleigh after posing as a 19-yearold man on the social networking site Facebook.

Ms Hillier was asked if there was anything more that could be done to prevent a recurrence of this event.

She said most social networking sites carried links to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), which carried important information about how to keep safe.

She said there was “no good reason” why all the sites did not carry this link.

She said: “Let’s be really clear, all of these things don’t stop common sense.

“It doesn’t stop individuals – parents and teenagers – making sure they’re doing everything they can and equipping themselves with all the information, all of these things play a part.

“The ISA couldn’t stop this man conning a young woman and abducting her, but it would stop someone like that getting a job.”

Ms Hillier, who is also responsible for the national identity card scheme, said in Belgium, youngsters had identity cards.

She added: “Children have to prove they are children before they go on social networking sites.

“This isn’t Home Office policy, but there are various technical mechanisms.

“There’s no good reason why a social networking site can’t have the CEOP link and we are pushing hard for that.”

The ISA employs about 200 people and yesterday children from St Aidan’s CE academy, in Darlington, unveiled a mural which they had designed and will go on display in the new office.

The chairman of the ISA, Sir Roger Singleton, is also the Government chief advisor for the safety of children.

He said: “There’s a fine balance to be struck between measures that protect children and measures that are too restrictive which people regard as being over the top.

“I think (at the ISA) we’ve got that balance right.”

■ Conservative leader David Cameron said he could not see any reason why Facebook should not include a panic button on its site.

Mr Cameron told ITV1’s Alan Titchmarsh Show: “I don’t think there is a silver bullet here that is going to solve the problem, but I think the idea of a panic button is good, so anyone who is worried about being groomed can have that panic button.

“But let’s be frank about it, we have also got to do better in bringing up our children, making sure that we have some knowledge about what they are looking at.

“We need to teach people more at school about how to use the internet and the dangers as well as the opportunities.”

*Pictued artists and pupils from St Aidan’s academy who have produced murals for the building. From left, Sarah Charlton, Maddison Smith, Ben Moutrey, Patrick Owsiak and David Joni. Artists are Yvonne Preston, left, and Petra Lloyd