The number of predatory abusers meeting children in South Yorkshire after grooming them online has risen threefold, it has emerged - as police are handed new powers to stop them sooner.
In South Yorkshire last year, 26 abusers sent sexual messages to youngsters before meeting them in person - up from just seven in 2014/15.
Over the last five years, 43 such offences have been recorded in South Yorkshire, according to Home Office figures, and a staggering 2,899 across England and Wales.
The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) says until now police there have been powerless to act until groomers meet the children or sexually abuse them.
But a new law the charity campaigned for, making it an offence to send sexual messages to children, is set to change that.
From today (Monday, April 3), police in England and Wales can arrest anyone who sends a sexual message to a child, enabling them to intervene before the victim can be physically abused.
In Scotland, where similar legislation is already in place, more than 1,500 offences of grooming have been recorded since 2010.
The NSPCC described the long-awaited roll-out of such powers in England and Wales as a 'victory for common sense'.
The charity's chief executive Peter Wanless said: “The justice secretary has done the right thing. This is a victory for the 50,000 people who supported the NSPCC's Flaw in the Law campaign. It is a victory for common sense.
"Children should be as safe online as they are offline, wherever they are in the UK. This law will give police in England and Wales the powers they need to protect children from online grooming, and to intervene sooner to stop abuse before it starts."
South Yorkshire Police welcomed the new legislation, which makes it an offence for anyone aged 18 or over to intentionally engage in sexual communication with a child under 16, either online or offline.
Detective Chief Inspector Melanie Palin, force lead for child sexual exploitation, said: "This legislation will support the police and partner agencies in safeguarding children and will enable the criminal prosecution of offenders.
"We would ask that anyone who has concerns about a child being abused or being subjected to sexual communication to contact the police.”
* You can report concerns about child grooming to police on 101 or call/text the national helpline Say Something on 116 000.