CIVILIANS will be drafted in to help detectives investigate sex abuse amid a huge increase in reported offences.

Sussex Police is thought to be the first force in the country planning to bring civilians into its safeguarding unit for work including taking statements, assessing evidence and dealing with victims.

It comes as the force is trying to cope with a 47 per cent increase in reported sexual abuse in the past year in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Superintendent Jason Tingley said: "In order to ensure there are a sufficient numbers of staff in our Safeguarding Investigation Unit (SIU) and other teams within Public Protection, we are seeking to develop a specific job role for civilian safeguarding investigators in the future.

"These are similar to those already used in major crime and the new role will support accredited detectives during investigations and may involve taking statements, assessing evidence and dealing directly with victims."

Outgoing deputy chief constable Olivia Pinkney said the move was being explored given that the increased reporting of sex crimes was "showing no signs of slowing down".

She told the police and crime commissioner: "While this is not the role that every police officer wants to do, I know people out there who would only want to do this kind of work and are not interested in other areas of police work and they have all sorts of backgrounds that are entirely relevant to child abuse investigation.

"For example, somebody who has been involved in social work, in youth work, something like that from the medical profession, who might actually only want to do this type of work. We want to look at pathways for bringing them in to do that.

"This is a huge part of our responsibility and we take it really seriously."

Mr Tingley said the force's next step will be to develop a job description for the new role, which will be funded via this year's increase to the police's share of the council tax bill.

Matt Webb, chair of the the Sussex Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said in general the federation welcomed the use of civilians if they were doing primarily administrative and supportive work that enabled police to get on with their jobs.

He added: "But if they are doing police functions then we might have to review our position."

Click here to read today's in-depth Argus report on tackling child exploitation in Sussex