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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 May, 2003, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
CD targets 'online child abuse'
Children on computer
Several have been jailed after attempting to meet children through chatrooms

The police have teamed up with teachers to produce an interactive CD designed to protect children from abuse through internet chatrooms.

Officers in Antrim have been trying out the new device with pupils in a local school.

The town's council and the North Eastern Education Board are also behind 'Chattering Class'.

It is the brainchild of the PSNI's local community involvement team.

The CD is targeted at primary seven pupils, simulating a chatroom environment and guiding them through safe internet use.

The initiative is part of a broader programme in the education sector to ensure the internet is used responsibly in schools.

Constable Trevor Parker said while computers provided a vast amount of useful information for children, there were many risks.

As a board, we take the responsible and safe use of computers and the internet in schools very seriously
Margaret Montgomery
North Eastern Education Board

"All adults - whether in the home or at school - should ensure that there is proper supervision and filtering so that children are not exposed to inappropriate sites which may include racism, pornography or violence," he said.

"We decided to concentrate on chatrooms because of the reality that children enjoy interactive computer work and because of the need to make them aware of the dangers of public unmoderated chatrooms that they may encounter outside school.

"Chattering Class allows the children to participate in a simulated chatroom on topics such as hobbies, animals, music or sport. They are asked a series of questions and if they give an answer which may give personal details such as their name, gender or address a warning flashes on the screen."

'Virtual strangers'

Margaret Montgomery of the North Eastern Education Board described the new CD as a "progressive police initiative".

"As a board, we take the responsible and safe use of computers and the internet in schools very seriously," she said.

Stan Mallon was jailed in the United States
Stan Mallon was jailed in the United States

The key safety advice for children in 'Chattering Class' included making sure only to use moderated chatrooms and never give personal details, she said. "Never arrange to meet anyone you have met online without the permission of parents, and if bad language is used or you feel uncomfortable or worried, end the conversation and tell your parents or teacher immediately."

Janine Hillen of Antrim Borough Council said its community safety committee was encouraged about the initiative because of "the level of real danger that children face from virtual strangers on the internet".

"Furthermore, this project illustrates that despite the increased knowledge and awareness of safety issues by schools and parents, risks continue to develop," she said.

Several people have been jailed after attempting to meet children through chatrooms in order to sexually abuse them.

In March this year, the 62-year-old former acting chief executive of the Ulster-Scots Agency was jailed after admitting a child sex offence.

Stan Mallon from County Antrim admitted using an internet chatroom to contact a girl called "Marny" who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.

He had arranged a meeting in a Chicago hotel room.

BBC NI's Rosy Billingham:
"The CD is part of a pilot scheme to promote internet safety"

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