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Internet child sex hunters to be jailed

ABUSERS who use Internet chatrooms to try to meet children face up to five years in jail as part of a shake-up of sexual offence laws.

The new offence of "grooming" children for abuse effectively criminalises the first steps towards abuse. It will apply to all aspects of life, not just the Internet.

A Home Office White Paper, Protecting the public, published this week includes plans to close a loophole allowing men to claim that under-13s had consented to sex.

It outlines at least 25 new offences and scraps remaining restrictions on homosexual behaviour. Home Secretary David Blunkett said: "The law on sex offences is widely recognised as archaic, incoherent and discriminatory. We must have laws that ... reflect today's society and attitudes and provide effective protection against today's crimes."

But, despite stricter rules for sex offenders, he rejected calls, following Sarah Payne's murder, for a public register of where they live.

Mary Marsh, chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said: "This is what the NSPCC has been calling for - clearer offences and tougher sentences. The grooming offence will help protect children from the manipulative and coercive actions of potential abusers.

"This includes stalking, offering gifts, paedophiles inviting a child into their home or posing as youngsters to approach children in chatrooms."

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