ESSEX Police say they are "working tirelessly" to protect children after more than 1,500 child cruelty offences were reported during the first year of the pandemic.

Child cruelty has been thrust into the spotlight after the shocking murders of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, in Birmingham, and 16-month-old Star Hobson, in Keighley, West Yorkshire.

Home Office figures show the Essex force logged 1,568 crimes of child cruelty in 2020-21.

That was up 16 per cent from 1,344 the year before.

It compares to just 44 recorded offences in the county in 2012-13, when records began.

The Government says the dramatic increase in offences reported nationally is likely to be driven by improvements in recording crimes, rather than a huge rise in child cruelty.

Det Chief Supt Andrew Packer is the head of Essex Police's crime and public protection command.

He said: “Specialist detectives and officers in our child abuse investigation teams work tirelessly to protect and safeguard children and young adults across our communities.

“They work alongside partners, including schools, local authorities and social services, to monitor any reports of offences against children and encourage those who may be vulnerable, or those who may have witnessed an offence, to come forward.

“They also work with other professionals in the area to ensure that continued support is offered to those who may be suffering the physical or mental impact of abuse.

“The welfare of children, young adults and those who are most vulnerable will always be our priority and we will continue to bring perpetrators of these crimes to justice.”

Separate figures show just a handful of the 1,494 child cruelty cases closed by Essex Police last year were brought before the criminal courts.

Just 14 resulted in a charge or summons being issued, though some may have been dealt with in the family courts.

Ninety per cent – 1,342 cases – were transferred to other authorities for further investigation.

A Government spokesman said the police are expected to use all powers available to them to investigate and record child abuse.

Last year, the Government provided £11 million to the See, Hear, Respond programme to support vulnerable young people during the pandemic. It also made £1.8 million available to the NSPCC for its helpline.

Anyone who believes they know a child is at risk is urged to contact Essex Police on 101 or visit