Children are increasingly being targeted on the web by sex offenders – with an average of 22 crimes a day taking place online across the UK last year, NSPCC figures have revealed.

Last year, a record 369 child sexual offences with an online element were logged by Thames Valley Police, according to figures obtained by the NSPCC through a Freedom of Information request.

That is an increase of 322 per cent from 2015/16 figures when 303 offences were recorded.

A total of 40 out of 44 forces across the UK provided the NSPCC with data on cyber-related sex crimes against under 18s including online grooming, sexual communication with a child, and rape.

The charity is now calling on the next Prime Minister to stand firm against industry lobbying by prioritising online safety and bringing in laws that deliver a change in protection against abuse.

Police forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland recorded 8,224 child sexual offences with an online element in 2018/19.

For offences where the age was recorded, 13 was the most common but there were 185 offences committed against children aged 10 and under; including babies yet to reach their first birthday.

The number of crimes nationally has doubled in the last four years since police began recording whether an offence had an internet element with a cyberflag, up from 4,042 in 2015/16.

The NSPCC fears that the figures may not reveal the true extent of the problem due to potential under-recording of the role of online in these crimes and wide logging variation across forces.

It also comes ahead of other online harms against children recorded by police, such as indecent image offences.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO, said: “Behind each offence is a child suffering at the hands of sex offenders and, worryingly, we know these figures are the tip of the iceberg.

“Far too many children are drowning in a sea of online threats so it’s now time for the next Prime Minister, whoever he may be, to cast out the life jacket.

“He must hold his nerve and introduce an independent regulator to protect children from the risks of abuse and harmful content.”