POLICE cannot act on complaints where adults have had sex with teenagers in their care and it is because of a legal loophole.

There have been seven in Swindon over the past year and they are among 74 cases reported in the south west of England.

At present only people like teachers, care workers and youth justice workers are legally in a position of trust, which means it is against the law for them to have sex with 16 or 17-year-olds that they supervise.

But other individuals, such as sports coaches and faith leaders, are not covered by the law.

The NSPCC’s Close the Loophole campaign is calling for these laws to be extended to all adults with responsibility for young people, to stop children being preyed upon as soon as they turn 16.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “It is absolutely outrageous that the law protects children in the classroom, but not on the sports pitch, or in a whole host of other activities.

“Government promised to extend these laws to sports coaches, but we have yet to see action and I fear they are backtracking.

“Any extension of the law must apply to all adults working with young people. To keep children safe this loophole must be closed. It is not enough to simply make the loophole smaller.”

A Swindon Borough Council spokesman said: “We take complaints of this nature very seriously indeed and we follow strict guidelines when dealing with them. We cannot comment on individual complaints but if anybody has any concerns about the conduct of adults in positions of trust, they should call the police on 101 or speak to the Council’s multi-agency safeguarding hub.

In the last four years Swindon Borough Council has recorded 13 crimes of abuse of position of trust of a sexual nature. There were three in 2015-16, three in 2016-17 and seven in 2017-18.

But council figures obtained by the NSPCC show a further 653 complaints were made in England and Wales over the same period about adults who are not currently covered by the criminal law having sex with children in their care. And the true extent could be even higher, because not all councils provided figures.

Councils recorded the adults’ jobs or volunteer roles in 495 cases. Of these 31 per cent of cases were about adults working in sports, 14 per cent were faith-related and 11 per cent were linked to youth work.

In November last year, former sports minister Tracey Crouch announced that the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Ministry of Justice had agreed that position of trust laws would be extended to sports coaches.

But no action has yet been taken and the NSPCC says the Ministry of Justice has since given the impression that existing laws on the age of consent and on non-consensual sexual activity provide adequate protection for 16 and 17-year-olds who are preyed upon by adults who supervise them.