Grooming crimes in Northern Ireland have increased by more than 50 per cent this year, according to a leading children’s charity.

Figures obtained by the NSPCC reveal 127 offences of sexual communication with a child were recorded by the PSNI in the year to April 2019.

That’s compared with 82 in the previous year.

The offence came into force in February 2017 in Northern Ireland, with the same law introduced in England and Wales two months later.

In April, the UK Government launched an online harms white paper that includes a statutory duty of care on technology companies, enforced by an independent regulator.

The proposals would introduce independent regulation of social networks, with a draft Bill to be published early next year.

The NSPCC wants social media firms to turn off friend suggestion algorithms for children and young people because they claim these make it easier for groomers to target youngsters.

They say 'robust regulation' should be put in place to protect children online as a matter of urgency.

Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: “It’s now clearer than ever that Government has no time to lose in getting tough on these tech firms.

“Despite the huge amount of pressure that social networks have come under to put basic protections in place, children are being groomed and abused on their platforms every single day. These figures are yet more evidence that social networks simply won’t act unless they are forced to by law. The Government needs to stand firm and bring in regulation without delay.”