Schoolgirl groomed by paedophile could face criminal record after sending topless photo

The girl's mother found the messages between her daughter and an unknown paedophile on InstagramCarl Court/Getty Images

A 12-year-old who was groomed by a paedophile to send a topless photo has reportedly been told she could face a child sex charge.

According to The Independent, child exploitation officers warned the girl she could find herself with a criminal record after her mother alerted police that her daughter was being groomed online.

"I couldn't believe it," the mother told The Sunday Mirror. "How can the victim end up with a criminal record? She's a young, innocent girl who has made a big, big mistake."

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She continued: "She's the victim. She was coerced into sending it. There's a paedophile out there yet they're talking about criminalising a little girl. She's scared, upset, worrying about what is going to happen and I'm questioning if I did the right thing in reporting it."

The paedophile who is alleged to have got the girl to send the inappropriate photo has not been found, according to the Mirror. The individual reportedly used an anonymous Instagram account with a heart emoji and Chelsea football badge as ID to harass the girl with explicit messages and requests for photos.

The girl, who lives in the south of England, is said to have initially refused the request but later relented and sent the photo from her iPad. The girl later ended the conversation as the paedophile's demands became more obscene.

The mother had given the girl the iPad to keep in touch with her friends after they moved from northern England to the south, the Mirror reported. Her mother discovered the exchange while checking her daughter's Instagram account.

"There was a person who sent her a love heart emoji, then within about three messages he was asking her to send a picture," the mother said. "At first she said 'no' but it just escalated, constant messages saying 'please, please, please,' begging her to do it."

Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre

The girl sent ended up sending two photographs, including a topless image. Her mother added: "The only relief was she hadn't included her face on the photo. Then the messages started getting even more graphic, asking for more pictures in different positions. It was scary and it was disgusting. Thankfully she ended the conversation and didn't send anything else."

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The mother reported the messages to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, part of the National Crime Agency (NCA), which told her to report it to the authorities. Officers interviewed the girl and took the iPad to further investigate.

A CEOP officer later warned the girl and her mother that she could face a criminal record. It is illegal to create or share explicit images of a child, even if the person doing it is a young person sending a photograph of themselves.

"My child is a victim of grooming but now she might be branded a criminal," the mother said. "If this is happening it could put other parents off reporting abuse. How many people actually knew this was the law?"

A spokesperson for the NCA said the agency always "puts victim care and safeguarding of children and young persons first and foremost.

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"In this instance we understand the child sent an image of herself to another person. If a young person is found creating or sharing images, the police must record a crime, in line with Home Office Counting Rules, and investigate.

"They have discretion not to take formal action if it isn't in the public interest to do so. Police are encouraged to take a common sense approach that does not criminalise children unnecessarily."

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