Chat rooms closed to stop paedophiles

COMPUTER giant Microsoft today announced plans to close most of its internet chatrooms around the world, to protect children from potential harm. The decision follows a string of disturbing cases where paedophiles have used chatrooms to groom youngsters for sexual abuse, and comes as a Suffolk policeman prepares to advise parents how to minimise the risks of chatrooms.

COMPUTER giant Microsoft today announced plans to close most of its internet chatrooms around the world, to protect children from potential harm.

The decision follows a string of disturbing cases where paedophiles have used chatrooms to groom youngsters for sexual abuse, and comes as a Suffolk policeman prepares to advise parents how to minimise the risks of chatrooms.

Microsoft plans to shut almost all the free chatrooms it operates through its MSN websites in 34 countries on October 14. The only chatrooms which will continue, either have their content monitored for inappropriate messages or will be run on a subscription basis, allowing users to be easily traced. AOL quietly shut down its UK open chatrooms earlier this year.

In Suffolk, community police officer Steve Smith has decided to organise a presentation, to give help and advice to parents who may be concerned about their children logging on to internet chatrooms. His event which will feature practical tips, takes place in Kirkley, Lowestoft, takes place on Saturday .


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Nationally, the Association of Chief Police Officers is also discussing the issue, as police believe one in five children who visit chatrooms has been approached online by a paedophile.

Meanwhile, children's charities across the country have welcomed Microsoft's decision. Chris Atkinson, internet safety expert at the NSPCC, said: "This announcement is a very positive step forward and will help close a major supply line for sex abusers who go to great lengths to gain access to innocent children by grooming them on the internet.

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"For too long we have been told by the internet industry that chatrooms are global and that nothing could be done to stop their escalation and their use by adults who target children."

John Carr, an Internet adviser to the charity NCH, added: "There has been a very substantial increase in sex abuse cases as a result of contacts made through chatrooms.

"The men who commit these crimes often target girls aged 13 to 14 and make out they are only two or three years older in order to win them over.

"They groom them over time and manipulate the child's emotions so they come to think of them as their best friend."

The move is also being used by MSN to combat the growing nuisance caused by unsolicited e-mails - known as spam.

Companies are known to collect e-mail addresses from those visiting chatrooms which they use to send what are often X-rated adverts, even though the recipient could be a child.

Cases which highlight what can happen when children meet someone they are in contact with online:

1) A Briton admitted in court that he travelled to the US to have sex with a schoolgirl he met in an internet chatroom.

DJ Barry Beadle, 51, from Merseyside, was arrested by the FBI after spending several nights with the 14-year-old at a hotel in Iowa.

2) Trainee teacher Luke Sadowski, 19, from Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, was jailed August for three years after he was caught trying to procure a nine-year-old girl for sex.

3) Electronics engineer Michael Wheeler, 36, from Cambridge, had sex with two girls after making contact with them through a chatroom and was given a three-year sentence in July after he admitted 11 sex offences.

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