A RECORD number of blackmail offences were reported to police in Sussex last year, figures show.

Charity Victim Support is urging the government and police to take the crime – which includes a rising number of “sextortion” cases – seriously.

Home Office figures show Sussex Police recorded 565 blackmail offences in the year to March – up from 408 in 2020 to 2021 and the most since comparable records began in 2012 to 2013.

Across England and Wales, 22,000 such offences were recorded in 2021 to 2022, more than double the number before the coronavirus pandemic in 2019 to 2020 and also a record.

The crime, which is punishable by up to 14 years in jail, is one of the fastest growing over the last decade.

Victim Support said the rise could reflect more crimes or victims feeling more empowered to come forward, but warned many still choose not to as they feel embarrassed.

Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the charity, said: “This steep rise in reports of blackmail is seriously concerning – with only one per cent of cases resulting in a charge, we risk victims losing trust in the criminal justice system.

“It is essential victims of blackmail are given practical and emotional support to help them recover and seek justice.

"Police forces and the government must take this crime seriously and get to the bottom of why we’re seeing this increase.”

Although the figures do not break down the type of blackmail carried out, the National Crime Agency views "sextortion", or webcam blackmail where victims are tricked into performing sexual acts on video as a growing threat.

And the Revenge Porn Helpline, which supports those who have suffered intimate image abuse, said it was its most reported issue in 2021.

Zara Ward, a senior practitioner at the service, said: "In many of our cases we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg and so many of these instances go unreported because the scammers have a huge impact on their victims, and it can lead to a lot of victims remaining silent."

She said the pandemic drove much of people's daily communication online, including relationships, and a lot of scams now begin on dating apps or social media.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said a rise in blackmail crimes is largely down to improvements in recording.

It encourages anyone who has been a victim to report it to the police – where they will receive continued support – and not give in to demands.

Separate figures show that of the 20,360 blackmail investigations closed nationwide in 2021 to 2022, just one per cent resulted in a charge or summons, and 59 per cent with no suspect identified.

Of these, 568 were concluded in Sussex, with 82 per cent resulting in no suspect being identified, 17 per cent abandoned due to evidential difficulties and less than one per cent with a charge or summons.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are supporting police by funding crime prevention measures, including equipping police with better technology to help catch more criminals.

"We are working with partners across the criminal justice system to increase the number of cases being charged and prosecuted.”

A spokesman for Sussex Police told The argus: "Sussex Police takes reports of blackmail extremely seriously and will always fully investigate incidents where lines of enquiry are available.

"Accurately recording reports is a key part of tackling these offences, and the latest data shows Sussex saw an increase in reports of blackmail over the last twelve months that mirrored the national picture.

"The largest increase came from reports involving sextortion, which make up the majority of blackmail offences recorded in Sussex.

"While 20 forces in the UK registered larger increases in reports than Sussex Police, as a force we welcome findings from support agencies that victims’ confidence in reporting blackmail offences is improving.

"We would always strongly encourage victims to report any incidents at the earliest opportunity, so they can be supported, an investigation can be launched and perpetrators brought to justice.

"A huge amount of work is being carried out in Sussex to improve charge and prosecution rates.

"Perpetrators of these offences are often coordinated by organised crime groups based overseas.

"While this does complicate the investigation, there is action we can take to identify and prosecute offenders, especially if we are notified as soon as possible.

"We also work closely and in partnership with schools and among our communities to improve online safety and raise awareness of how these offences are perpetrated so crimes can be prevented.

"Officers and staff also receive ongoing training on how to identify and effectively investigate these types of offences.

"Early reporting is key. If you have been a victim of blackmail, report it to police online, via 101 or by dialling 999 in an emergency at the earliest opportunity.

"The sooner we are aware, the sooner we can act.

"For information and guidance on sextortion, visit: