Government increases proposed jail terms for Web grooming

Those who use the Internet to make contact with children before attempting to sexually abuse them could soon be jailed for up to a decade

Anyone found guilty of establishing contact with a child over the Internet and meeting or attempting to meet them to commit a sexual offence could face a jail sentence of up to 10 years once new legislation is passed by Parliament.

The government announced on Monday that it is increasing the maximum sentence for grooming a child from the seven years that was formerly proposed.

This offence, which doesn't currently exist in law, should come into force later this year when MPs pass the Sexual Offences Bill. The decision to increase the maximum sentence was taken after some MPs demanded tougher sanctions for the worst offenders, the government said.

"We have decided to raise the penalty for the grooming offence following a convincing debate in committee where strong arguments were advanced for raising the penalty to enable appropriate sentences to be passed in the most serious cases," explained a Home Office spokeswoman, according to reports.

The government is keen to crack down on Internet grooming, the term for paedophiles using the Web to cultivate relationships with children. This practice hit the headlines this summer when Microsoft decided to close down most of its Web chatrooms, citing child safety concerns as one reason behind the move.

Although some in the industry doubted Microsoft's motives, the software giant's move helped to keep the issue of chatroom safety under the spotlight.

The UK has seen a string of court cases this year where adults have been convicted of sexually abusing children they made contact with online. The threat of a ten-year sentence, the government hopes, will help to deter potential offenders.