MORE than 1,500 child cruelty offences were recorded by Essex Police during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

Home Office figures show Essex Police logged 1,568 crimes of child cruelty in 2020-21 – up from 1,344 the year before.

The number of offences logged during that time was significantly higher than just 44 recorded in 2012-13, when records began.

Across England and Wales, child cruelty offences leapt by 12 per cent to a record 25,000 last year, despite authorities struggling to identify some of those at risk amid national lockdowns and school closures.

Nationally, offences have almost quadrupled since 2012-13, with forces recording more than 130,000 crimes in less than a decade.

Of those, 3,662 were logged by Essex Police.

The Government said the dramatic national increase in reported offences was probably due to improvements in recording, rather than a rise in child cruelty cases.

However, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and children’s charity the NSPCC believe more can be done to protect children.

NSPCC spokesman Pierre Hyman called for Government investment to strengthen safeguarding and ensure authorities work together to tackle the issue.

It follows the murder of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, who was tortured by his father and stepmother before he was killed in June 2020.

Mr Hyman said: “To see year after year the number of child cruelty offences rise so dramatically is concerning, particularly following the tragic case of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

“We have similarly seen a rise in calls to our helpline around child abuse and neglect.

“We need political leadership on ensuring child abuse victims are supported in the criminal justice system.”

Separate figures show the majority of the 1,494 child cruelty cases closed by Essex Police last year were never brought before the criminal courts.

Just 14 resulted in a charge or summons, although some may have been addressed in the family courts.

The force transferred 1,342 cases – 90 per cent – to other authorities for further investigation.

Department for Education figures show two-thirds of children looked after by councils across England are in care due to abuse.