More than 500 grooming offences were recorded in the north west last year.
Nationally, more than 5,000 online grooming offences were recorded by police in England and Wales in just 18 months, according to data obtained by the NSPCC.
Some 565 grooming offences were recorded by police forces in the North West between April 2017 and April 2018.
In Lancashire, 175 grooming offences were recorded, while Greater Manchester recorded 296, Merseyside 70 and there were 25 in Cheshire.
The national figures show the recorded use of Instagram has risen dramatically over the 18-month period. From April 2017 to September 2017, where the communication method was recorded, Instagram was used by groomers in 126 instances, whereas between April 2018 and September 2018 it was recorded 428 times – more than a 200 per cent increase.
The data, obtained from 39 of the 43 forces in England and Wales under Freedom of Information laws, also shows that in the latest six-month period, girls aged 12 to 15 were most likely to be targeted by groomers, and victims included children as young as five years old.
Ahead of the imminent publication of the Government’s Online Harms White Paper, the NSPCC is urging ministers to tame the Wild West Web by bringing in statutory regulation to enforce a legal duty of care to children on social networks, backed by hefty fines if they fail.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “These figures are overwhelming evidence that keeping children safe cannot be left to social networks.
“We cannot wait for the next tragedy before tech companies are made to act. It is hugely concerning to see the sharp spike in grooming offences on Instagram, and it is vital that the platform designs basic protection more carefully into the service it offers young people.
“After 10 years of failed self-regulation by social networks, it is crucial that the Government’s imminent Online Harms White Paper includes new laws that tackle online grooming once and for all.”
The crime of Sexual Communication with a Child came into force on April 3 2017, following an NSPCC campaign. In the first 18 months a total of 5,161 crimes have been recorded by police, including 1,944 in April 2018 to September 2018.
A total of 1,316 offences were recorded in the first six months (April 2017 to September 2017).