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Record number of blackmail crimes reported to police

File photo dated 22/10/14 of a police officer writing on paper. (Joe Giddens/PA)
File photo dated 22/10/14 of a police officer writing on paper. (Joe Giddens/PA)

A record number of blackmail offences were reported to police in England and Wales last year, figures show.

Charity Victim Support is urging the Government and police to take the crime – which includes a rising number of “sextortion” cases – seriously.

Home Office figures show police forces across England and Wales recorded 22,064 blackmail offences in the year to March – more than double the number in 2019-20, before the coronavirus pandemic.

It was also the most since comparable records began in 2012-13, with almost every police force across the two nations seeing records broken.

According to the latest population estimates, Cumbria Constabulary recorded 6.7 offences for every 10,000 people last year – the highest rate of all forces in England and Wales.

Blackmail is punishable by up to 14 years in jail and is one of the fastest growing crimes in the past decade.

Victim Support said the rise could reflect more crimes or victims feeling more empowered to come forward, but warned many still choose not to as they feel embarrassed.

Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the charity, said: “This steep rise in reports of blackmail is seriously concerning – with only 1% of cases resulting in a charge, we risk victims losing trust in the criminal justice system.

“It is essential victims of blackmail are given practical and emotional support to help them recover and seek justice.

“Police forces and the Government must take this crime seriously and get to the bottom of why we’re seeing this increase.”

Although the Home Office figures do not break down the type of blackmail carried out, the National Crime Agency said “sextortion”, or webcam blackmail – where victims are tricked into performing sexual acts on video – is a growing threat.

And the Revenge Porn Helpline, which supports those who have suffered intimate image abuse, said it was their most reported issue in 2021.

Zara Ward, a senior practitioner at the service, said: “In many of our cases we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg and so many of these instances go unreported because the scammers have a huge impact on their victims, and it can lead to a lot of victims remaining silent.”

She said the pandemic drove much of people’s daily communication online, including relationships, and a lot of scams now begin on dating apps or social media.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said a rise in blackmail crimes is largely down to improvements in recording.

It encourages anyone who has been a victim to report it to the police – where they will receive continued support – and not give in to demands.

Separate figures show that of the 20,360 blackmail investigations closed nationwide in 2021-22, just 1% resulted in a charge or summons, and 59% with no suspect identified.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are supporting police by funding crime prevention measures, including equipping police with better technology to help catch more criminals.

“We are working with partners across the criminal justice system to increase the number of cases being charged and prosecuted.”