Select Committee on Home Affairs Fifth Report

5. Meeting a child following sexual grooming

48. Clause 17 will create a new offence of 'meeting a child following sexual grooming'. It is "intended to cover situations in which an adult establishes contact with a child—for example through meetings, telephone conversations or communications on the internet—with the intention of gaining the child's trust and confidence so that he can arrange to meet the child for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against him or her".[65] There are two key parts to the offence. First, the adult (A) must intentionally meet, or travel to meet, a child (B) with the intention of committing one of the specified sex offences and, secondly, A must already have met or communicated with B on at least two previous occasions.[66]

49. Sexual 'grooming' of children is recognised to be a very real problem[67] and Clause 17 "stems from work undertaken by the Government's Internet task force on child protection".[68] The clause has received broad support from the police, as well as a number of organisations involved in child protection.[69] Childnet International explain that "the new…offence would enable the police to arrest the predator before the child was physically or sexually abused."[70]

50. However, others fear that we are creating a "thought crime"[71] which could criminalise innocent communications with children. Peter Rook QC (Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association) suggested that the clause be amended to require that the defendant has "the appropriate intention…on the previous two occasions", as well as in relation to the actual or intended meeting.[72] Against this, Childnet International states that the "thought crime" argument "ignores the fact that the contacts and communication are linked incontrovertibly to arrangements for a meeting with the purpose of committing a sexual crime in order for the new grooming offence to have been committed." In their view, "the intent would be drawn from a course of conduct, either the communication itself…or other circumstances, such as going to the meeting with pornography, condoms or lubricants for example."[73]

51. Hilary Benn, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Home Office, has also said that:

"We do not think in any way that it will criminalise innocent communication with children because, in order for the offence to be proved, whilst previous contact has to take place, it has to be shown that, at the point of meeting the child, there was intention to commit a sex offence. I am the first to acknowledge that it will not be easy to prove that, but the argument for this offence…was…to plug a gap in the law."[74]

52. We accordingly support the new offence of 'meeting a child following sexual grooming'.

65   HL Deb, 1 April 2003, col 1256, Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC Back

66   Cl 17(1)(a) Back

67   See the case examples given by Childnet International, Ev 40-41.  Back

68   HL Deb, 1 April 2003, col 1256, Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC Back

69   See, for example, Ev 38-43 (Childnet International) , Ev 83 (Metropolitan Police) and Ev 90 (Police Federation) Back

70   Ev 42 Back

71   See, for example, Ev 45 (Criminal Bar Association) and Ev 78 (Liberty) Back

72   Q 82 Back

73   Ev 42 Back

74   Q 172 Back

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