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20 Dec 2010

The mother of a murdered teenager who was groomed online by a stranger, says not enough is being done to protect older teens on the web.

Ashleigh Hall was 17 when she was killed by Peter Chapman, who was dubbed the Facebook Murderer, in 2009.

He had used a fake photo to pose as a teenage boy online.

Her mum Andrea says there's not enough help for teenagers once they turn 16.

"There isn't enough safety online," she said.

"If there is any it's just there for people who are under 16. What about keeping over 16s safe?" she said.
Potential offenders

"Grooming doesn't just happen to young people, it happens to older teenagers and adults as well," she added.

Laws targeting grooming were first brought in under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act but they only cover people up until the age of 16.

Once children reach that age the level of protection and deterrent for potential offenders is not the same.

John Carr, who advises the government about how to keep children safe online, thinks the law needs changing.

"We tend to think as soon as a child is 16 and they can consent to have sex they're old enough to make their own decisions about this thing," he said.

"But, as we know, not all young people can detect some of the really bad guys there on the internet looking for them.

"I think the police need new powers to cover 16 and 17 year olds.

"We shouldn't just cut them off at the age of 16 and leave them to swim in that dark sea of the internet all on their own".

His comments come as a new storyline in teen soap Hollyoaks looks at how older teenager stay safe online.

The character of 19-year-old India gets into online dating, arranges to meet a stranger and ends up being killed.
'Simple message'

Series producer Paul Marquess says: "It's a dark and intense, long running story.

"But at the heart of it is the most simple message which is be really, really careful.

"It seems to be particularly relevant for people once they're past the age of 16 where there doesn't seem to be the same level of protection".

A government spokesperson said it was committed to making the internet a safer place.

He added that police and law enforcement agencies already have a broad range of tools and powers available to help them investigate sexually motivated crimes, whatever the age of the victim.

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