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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 July, 2003, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Internet 'grooming' law moves closer
Children can not always be sure who they are talking to in chatrooms
Laws to make the so-called "grooming" of children by paedophiles over the internet illegal moved a step closer on Tuesday.

A new law is being created in the sexual offences bill - which is getting its second reading in the Commons - making it illegal for an adult to arrange to meet a child under the age of 16 with intent to abuse them.

The legislation, which would see those convicted face a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, is expected to come into force in the autumn.

The new offence has been created following concern over recent cases where 'internet grooming' has led to sexual assaults on children.

Earlier this year, Andrew Lay, a 35-year-old from Milton Keynes, was jailed for six years for committing sexual offences against a young girl he first contacted through a chatroom when she was just 12.

Legal loophole

He led his victim to believe he was in his early 20s and communicated with her regularly over the Internet and through text messages.

And last month, 36-year-old Michael Wheeler was jailed for three years for attacking two 13-year-old girls after befriending them via a chatroom.

Wheeler exploited a loophole in the law by grooming his victims for several months but only sexually assaulting them once they had reached 13 - avoiding the tougher sentences attached to unlawful sex with children aged 12 or under.

The new offence of sexual "grooming" will enable police officers to intervene and arrest a suspect before any sexual activity takes place.

Michael Wheeler posed as a teenager to ensnare children
MP Hilton Dawson, who chairs the all party children's group, said the new laws would help protect vulnerable children.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There is a great deal of concern about the dangers the internet can present to young people and I think the government is handling it responsibly.

"Work is being done with the internet service providers and educational material is being made available to increase awareness in parents and children.

"But we certainly need a pretty serious penalty for people who do engage in this sort of appalling abuse."

The Home Office has also recommended that website chatrooms should provide warning pages on the dangers of paedophiles operating online, as well as a "panic button" to allow users to save details of suspicious activity.

Chat room paedophile jailed
07 Jun 03  |  England
'My daughter is scarred for life'
06 Jun 03  |  Cambridgeshire
'I was groomed online'
06 Feb 03  |  UK News
Q&A: Keeping safe on the net
06 Jan 03  |  Technology

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