More than 1,000 crimes related to possession of images of child have been recorded in the county in the last five years.

New NSPCC research revealed that offences relating to possessing, taking, making, and distributing child abuse material in Cumbria peaked last year while the country was in lockdown.

Offences recorded by police UK-wide passed 100,000 in five years, with more than 25,000 crimes last year - up 37 per cent since 2016/17.

The NSPCC said social media was being used by groomers as a conveyor belt to produce and share child abuse images on an 'industrial scale' and the pandemic had created ‘perfect storm’ for grooming and abuse online.

The child protection charity is urging Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries to seize the opportunity to strengthen the Online Safety Bill, so it results in decisive action that disrupts the production and spread of child abuse material on social media.

There were 255 offences in Cumbria in 2020/21, a five year high and up from 223 the year before.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said that behind every offence could be multiple victims and images, and children will continue to be at risk of an unprecedented scale of abuse unless the draft legislation is significantly strengthened.

NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless said: “The staggering amount of child sexual abuse image offences is being fuelled by the ease with which offenders are able to groom children across social media to produce and share images on an industrial scale.

“The Government recognises the problem and has created a landmark opportunity with the Online Safety Bill. We admire Nadine Dorries’ declared intent that child protection is her number one objective.

“But our assessment is that the legislation needs strengthening in clear and specific ways if it is to fundamentally address the complex nature of online abuse and prevent children from coming to avoidable harm.”

Offenders in the last five years include Nathan Brian Parker.

Parker, of Ennerdale Close in Dalton at the time of his sentencing in 2020, viewed hundreds of indecent images of children and was jailed for five years.

In October sex offender Oliver Wear, of Friars Lane in Barrow, admitted possessing a total of 322 indecent images and was jailed for 10 months in prison suspended for two years.