Children as young as 10 have been targeted by online groomers in Cheshire.

A total of 26 cases were reported to Cheshire Constabulary between 2013 and 2015, and police say this new type of crime is on the rise.

Facebook was used in 18 of the cases, but children were also groomed through Skype, MSN and Instagram.

A 12-year-old from Chester was targeted in January 2015 using the KIK instant messaging app, but eventual difficulties prevented any further action being taken.

In the Chester Rural and Frodsham LPU area a 14-year-old was groomed via Facebook in 2013.

Detective Superintendent Nigel Wenham said: “Overwhelmingly young people want the internet to be a positive and inclusive place that respects people’s differences, were they can feel safe and are safe.

“However we know that there is a darker more sinister side to social media and the internet, were predators target children and young people, exploiting them, abusing them, bullying them.

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“There is no doubt that there is a continuing increase of cases reported and we expect this trend to continue as young people continue to gain access to social media more widely, through even more devices.”

Cheshire Chief Constable Simon Byrne with his #shareaheart to spread positive messages about using the web safely as part of Safer Internet Day

Grooming cases were also reported in Northwich and Winsford, with no further action taken in the former and the predator was charged in the latter.

Earlier this week staff at Bishops’ Blue Coat CE High School warned parents about inappropriate messages sent to students via social media.

An NSPCC spokesman said: ‘Social media can be a wonderful tool for young people but it is clear from these figures that predators will use these sites to exploit and abuse some children.

“We have seen an avalanche of cases where children have been groomed by dangerous offenders through social media websites, and this trend looks set to continue unless more is done to protect them.

“Social media companies create these sites – now they must ensure there are robust safety measures in place.”

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A total of 14 grooming reports came in from Warrington during the three years.

A total of 26 cases of internet grooming were reported to Cheshire Constabulary between 2013 and 2015

Other cases brought to Cheshire Police’s attention were from Crewe, Knutsford, Macclesfield, Widnes and Wilmslow.

D/Supt Wenham said officers and staff had been given specialist training to ensure they can respond to and investigate cyber-related crimes.

He said: “The internet and social media provide wonderful opportunities for young people to develop, learn and play.

“We all have a responsibility to educate our children, to work with them and make them aware of the dangers.

“Cheshire Police work with the Safer Schools and Young People Partnership to raise awareness and educate young people about how they can use social media safely.

“We also work with parents, teachers, professionals and the public to raise awareness to the dangers and how to operate safely in the on line environment.”

Highly trained specialists are also used for more detailed and complex investigations.

Information and advice for children, young people and parents is available at www.saferinternet.org.uk and www.thinkuknow.co.uk for advice.

The NSPCC has also teamed up with O2 to help keep children safe online. Visit www.nspcc.org.uk/O2 for more information.