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25 February 2011

Thames Valley Police is to trial a new method of beating cyber bullies in Reading over the next three months.

From Monday (28/2), Reading safer schools officer PC Dave Thomas, with help from a teenage police volunteer, will investigate and deal with reports of bullying or harassment using the social network site.

The initiative intends to communicate with young people using a medium they are comfortable with.

It addition, PC Thomas hopes that by addressing the problem at an early stage it will prevent the issue from escalating and the perpetrators being investigated as a serious crime.

He said: “In Reading alone, we recorded 60 Facebook-related crimes in the last quarter.

“By sending a police warning notice on Facebook students will be made aware they could be prosecuted. By alerting their parents to the problem, we are aiming to nip the problem in the bud and prevent it becoming something more serious.

“Social networkers, whatever their age, often don’t think about what they are writing in the same way they would think about what they write in a letter or an email.

“If we have to investigate Facebook messages as harassment or public order offences and the young person gets charged, it could seriously affect their future. While we want them to realise how serious the matter is, we also want to avoid that and keep young people out of the criminal justice system if possible.”

Once a cyber bullying issue on Facebook is flagged by a school or parent to an officer, PC Thomas and his team will investigate what has been written and, if it is deemed inappropriate, they will send the bully a message warning them if they continue they could be breaking the law.

In addition, the young person’s parents are sent a letter informing them what their child has been doing and the potential consequences of their actions.

The trial will be running in Reading until May and, if successful, could be rolled out elsewhere in the Thames Valley.