Grooming crimes recorded by Essex Police have soared by 177 per-cent in the last year, figures obtained by the NSPCC has revealed.

Police in Essex recorded 166 offences of sexual communication with a child in the year up to April 2019, up from 60 in 2017/18.

Last year, 22 victims were aged 11 or under and the figures show the most likely to be targeted were girls aged 12 to 15.

Overall in the last two years, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat were used in 70 per cent of the instances where police recorded and provided the communication method in the east of England.

Instagram was used in more than a quarter of them, up from 62 in 2017/18 to 113 last year.

The Government has indicated it will publish a draft Online Harms Bill early next year which would introduce independent regulation of social networks, with tough sanctions if they fail to keep children safe.

The charity believes it is now crucial that Boris Johnson’s Government makes a public commitment to draw up these Online Harms laws and implement robust regulation for tech firms to force them to protect children as a matter of urgency.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “It’s now clearer than ever that Government has no time to lose in getting tough on these tech firms.

“Despite the pressure 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.”

A spokesman for Essex Police said: “As the use of technology and, particularly, social media continues to grow in popularity and complexity, we are seeing a rise in offences like sexual communications with children.

“Our officers continue to work tirelessly to unravel the complex trail of evidence left by online offenders, and to work with partners and families to safeguard some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

“Anyone with concerns about their child, or a child that they know and who they may be talking to online, is asked to call us on 101.You can also visit the NSPCC website for advice about keeping children safe when they’re online.”