More must be done to protect girls online, the NSPCC has said, as new figures suggest they are the victim of more than three-quarters of online grooming crimes in Essex.

The charity, which obtained the information from 43 police forces through a Freedom of Information request, is calling on new Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to strengthen proposals in the draft Online Safety Bill to ensure girls are properly protected from online sexual abuse nationally.

The data shows Essex Police recorded 266 offences in which an adult engaged in sexual communication with a child under 16 between July 2020 and March.

The gender of the victim was recorded in 185 crimes – 145 (78 per cent) of whom were female, and 40 male.

The data also shows that where the age of the female victim was recorded, 98 were aged between 12 and 15, and 33 under 11.

The offence of sexual communication with a child, which was introduced in 2017 in England and Wales, refers to crimes committed online as well as in-person or via text message.

However, the NSPCC estimates more than 95 per cent of such offences are committed via the internet.

The NSPCC is calling on the Government to ensure it lives up to its previously stated ambition of making the UK the safest place in the world for a child to be online.