THE number of children in Greater Manchester who have fallen victim to cyber-related sex crimes has doubled in the last four years.

New figures compiled by the NSPCC reveal that, since 2015/16, Greater Manchester Police have recorded a total of 2,231 cases of sex crimes against children, which have an online element.

In 2015/16 the number of reported cases was 417, but the figure had soared to 628 by 2018/19.

The children's charity warns that schoolchildren are increasingly being targeted on the web by sex offenders with, nationally, an average of 22 crimes a day taking place online.

The NSPCC sent Freedom of Information requests to the country's 44 police forces and 40 of them responded with data on cyber-related sex crimes against under-18s, which include online grooming, sexual communication with a child and rape.

Over the last four years police forces have been required to mark such offences with a 'cyberflag'. The most common age for victims was 13, but offences against younger children, and even babies, were also listed.

The offences flagged do not include other online harm against children, such as indecent images offences, and the NSPCC fears that the true extent of the role the internet plays in crimes against children may be even greater. The charity is now calling on the government to prioritise online safety and bring in new laws.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “Behind each offence is a child suffering at the hands of sex offenders and, worryingly, we know these figures are the tip of the iceberg.

“Far too many children are drowning in a sea of online threats so it’s now time for the next Prime Minister, whoever he may be, to cast out the life jacket. He must hold his nerve and introduce an independent regulator to protect children from the risks of abuse and harmful content.”

The current Online Harms White Paper proposes an independent regulator to enforce a duty of care on tech companies.