POLICE recorded nearly 7,000 child abuse image crimes around the south west during the last five years - including 1,329 in Wiltshire alone.

The NSPCC is urging the government to strengthen the Online Safety Bill to help disrupt the production and spread of these images on social media.

And the charity shared the experience of a 14-year-old victims' mum after her son was tricked into sending inappropriate pictures of himself.

Results from Freedom of Information requests to UK police forces show the number of offences relating to possessing, taking, making, and distributing child abuse material in the region peaked at 6,852 last year (2020/21) – up a staggering 584 per cent from 2016/17, where 1,001 offences were recorded.

Offences jumped by 26 per cent in the south west during the first year of the pandemic, which the NSPCC previously warned had created a ‘perfect storm’ for grooming and abuse online.

The child protection charity warned that groomers use social media as a "conveyor belt" to produce and share child abuse images on an industrial scale.

The NSPCC said that behind every offence could be multiple victims and images, and children will continue to be at risk of an unprecedented scale of abuse unless the draft legislation is significantly strengthened.

Rachel's son Ben (fake names used to protect their identities) was 14 when a man pretending to be a female friend of his friend used threats and blackmail to coerce the underage teen to send images and perform sex acts live on Skype.

The abuser shared the images and videos with five other men who bombarded Ben with more demands.

Mum Rachel said: "The abuse Ben suffered had a devastating impact on our family. It lasted two years, leaving him suicidal. It should not be so easy for an adult to meet and groom a child on one site then trick them into live-streaming their own abuse on another, before sharing the images with like-minded criminals at the click of a button.

“Social media sites should have to work together to stop this abuse happening, so other children do not have to go through what Ben did.”

Parliament is preparing a report on a draft of the new Online Safety Bill. The NSPCC has set out a five-point plan which would strengthen the upcoming law so that it is more effective in preventing online abuse.

The charity’s online safety experts said the Bill currently fails to address how offenders organise across social media, it does not effectively tackle abuse in private messaging, and fails to hold top managers liable for harm or give children a voice to balance the power of industry.

NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless, said: “The staggering amount of child sexual abuse image offences is being fuelled by the ease with which offenders are able to groom children across social media to produce and share images on an industrial scale.

“The government has created a landmark opportunity with the Online Safety Bill. But the legislation needs strengthening in clear and specific ways if it is to fundamentally address the complex nature of online abuse and prevent children from coming to avoidable harm.”

The NSPCC’s five-point plan is as follows:

-Disrupt well-established grooming pathways, tackle how offenders use social media to organise abuse, put a duty on every social media platform to have a named manager who is responsible for children's safety, give the regulator more effective powers to combat abuse in private messaging, and give children a funded voice to fight for their interests.