Paedo suspects in the frame

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Fifteen suspected child sex offenders in Lancaster, Morecambe and Wyre have been handed police warning notices in the past two years.

Official police figures show that across Lancashire 128 ‘abduction notices’ were handed to people suspected of trying to groom children, warning them to stop whatever conduct has caused police concern.

The notices are used where a person’s behaviour is believed to pose a significant risk – such as where teenagers are found with older men in cars with alcohol or cigarettes – but where evidence falls short of allowing officers to arrest or charge them.

They can be used to help prosecute offenders at a later date if they do not stop their conduct.

The figures come as the man leading Lancashire Police’s response to child sex offending said protecting vulnerable people was the force’s top priority.

And Det Supt Ian Critchley, of the force’s Public Protection Unit, revealed the internet is continuing to grow as a threat and is increasingly the source of child grooming offences.

However, police are also investigating offences involving lone child sex offenders and, less frequently, gangs or groups of offenders preying on children.

He said: “Where we cannot arrest we will use abduction notices to protect vulnerable people. They are valuable tools and help us in terms of reducing the vulnerability of young people who are potential victims of abuse.

Figures show the majority of notices have been handed out in the east of the county, where a prosecution involving several people is due in court on March 19 as part of an operation codenamed Hawk.

But there have been 15 notices handed out in Lancaster, Morecambe and Wyre in 2011 and 2012, a further 11 in Preston and 11 in Chorley, South Ribble and West Lancashire.

Det Supt Critchley added that the force was committed to policing the internet.

“Part of that is key messages to young people, parents and carers about safe use of the internet,” he said. However, he added that officers also came across lone offenders seeking to identify potential targets on the street and groups and gangs working together.

He said: “As a constabulary we are absolutely focussed on protecting victims and bringing offenders to justice. There is a service that we can be proud of in Lancashire that will help and we want people to seek support.”

Anyone with concerns about child sex exploitation can call police on 101 and ask for the Public Protection Unit.

n SEVEN registered sex offenders from Lancashire have gone missing and are on the run, it was revealed this week.

Officers believe that five of the offenders are abroad.

Police say every effort is being made to track them down, including sharing information with counterparts in the countries they are thought to have fled to. It is not known where the other two – who are said to have a “high risk of re-conviction” – are, but they may still be in this country.

It is unclear whether any of those missing are from the Lancaster district.

The most wanted list includes 64-year-old Keith David Richardson, who failed to tell officers he was going abroad and is believed to be in Spain.

Figures show there are currently 1,517 registered sex offenders in Lancashire, including 243 in Lancaster, Morecambe and Wyre.