Shevaun case flags up web fears

Computer software advocated by children's charities could have helped prevent the case of Shevaun Pennington, the 12-year-old Manchester schoolgirl, running off with a former US marine whom she met in an internet chat room.

The Children's Charities' Coalition for Internet Safety has asked the Government to ensure that all computers sold to domestic users in the UK have child protection software pre-installed. When activated, access to chat rooms is blocked by default.

John Carr, NCH's internet advisor, who has also advised NSPCC, said: "If the software had been installed on Shevaun's computer, her parents would have been able to make it impossible for her to send her address, phone number or email address."

Comet, the electrical retailer and manufacturer, has already agreed to install child protection software on all of its own-brand computers sold to domestic users from the autumn onwards. NSPCC is working with Comet to pressure Sony, Hewlett Packard and other major manufacturers to install the software on their machines generally, but specifically those sold through branches of Comet.

"We have also approached PC World, Tiny and Time, and have had warm words but no action," said Carr. "We are very pleased that Comet has chosen to take positive action."

Pennington, who flew to France with Toby Studabaker, 31, has now been reunited with her family. But charities say that her story highlights the potential dangers that the internet holds for children.

Coalition members, which include NCH, Barnardo's, ChildLine, the Children's Society, National Children's Bureau, National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations and NSPCC, have also been running a series of individual initiatives to promote online safety.

NCH's net smart rules advise children about potential dangers and how to protect themselves.

NSPCC's 'safety net' campaign, which also calls for compulsory pre-installation of child protection software, was launched at the start of this month to increase the pressure for change.

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