FACEBOOK and apps owned by the organisation were used in 40 per cent of grooming cases in Hampshire, new research reveals.

Led by the NSPCC, the investigation found that within the first nine months of a new offence of ‘sexual communication with a child’ being used, 62 offences were recorded by Hampshire Constabulary.

Within this, just over 40 per cent of those cases (27) involved the use of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp - all part of Facebook’s portfolio.

In some cases, predators would use multiple platforms to contact their victims.

Facebook was recorded as being used in over a quarter of the cases, while the other applications were recorded in 17.

The figure has been released by the children’s charity after a Freedom of Information request to police.

NSPCC is now urging Matt Hancock, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to bring in a regulator to force social networks to keep children safe.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “Facebook has shown it is happy to use data for commercial purposes, but has failed to harness data in a way that can be used to prevent grooming.

“Mr Hancock could be the person who makes the internet a safer place, for every child now and in the future. We hope he seizes the chance to do that.”

Antigone Davis, global head of safety at Facebook, said: “We have a zero tolerance for child sexual exploitation on Facebook. We have the technology to scan images on Facebook and flag known child exploitative material so we can quickly remove it. “