UK police warn of heightened sex threat to children online during virus lockdown

British police said on Friday there were at least 300,000 people in the country who posed a sex threat to children, warning that there could be a spike in online offences during the coronavirus lockdown.

LONDON, April 3 (Reuters) - British police said on Friday there were at least 300,000 people in the country who posed a sex threat to children, warning that there could be a spike in online offences during the coronavirus lockdown.

With schools across the country almost entirely closed and children increasingly using web-based educational resources, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said it knew from online chat that offenders were discussing opportunities to abuse children.

"It is sickening to think that some criminals are looking to exploit the coronavirus crisis to cause harm online," said Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the lead officer for child protection.

"Despite the issues that the pandemic will cause for law enforcement, child protection is still a priority and we remain totally committed to keeping our young people safe."

The police said their assessment of the risk was based on intelligence which predates the outbreak of the virus, and that the 300,000 individuals posed a threat either directly or online.

Officers said they were urging parents and carers to ensure children were aware of online risks and were launching a campaign to reinforce safety messages, saying child sex abuse content could be found on the open web in just three clicks.

Rob Jones, the NCA's director of threat leadership, said they also wanted tech companies to do more.

"Preventing offences occurring is always crucial and now more so than ever when there is masses of online traffic and a possible elevated threat to children," he said.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)

((michael.holden@thomsonreuters.com; +44 207 542 3213; Reuters Messaging: michael.holden.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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