ESSEX Police’s chief constable has called for new laws to stop online crime devastating victims’ lives.

Stephen Kavanagh told a parliamentary committee every police officer must be trained in how to deal with online abuse.

Mr Kavanagh, who is leadingwork on the investigation for the Home Office, was speaking to the House of Lords communications committee about social media.

He said it needed to be core business for the police and “training needs to be changed dramatically, so everyone from new beat bobbies, PCSOs, all the way through to homicide investigators will be part of it”.

Mr Kavanagh said: “Policing, of course, must remain proportionate.

However, we have a duty to protect those suffering those real harms, especially the most vulnerable who don’t knowwhere to turn.

“This is an issue that can touch anybody’s life at any time, from any background.

There are too many victims out there whose lives have been devastated by online abuse.

“Of course, legislation can be applied to many of the criminal behaviours on social media, but we believe it is time to consider whether enabling preventative and enforcement legislation will assist in keeping people more safe in the online environment and provide a framework which is equally important, that gives oversight and accountability to police when they do venture into this sensitive arena.”

Mr Kavanagh said it was not enough to act once online abuse had happened, saying there were three areas he wanted to explore. He added: “One is about enabling lawenforcement to be able to go into these environments, in an ethical and appropriate way, to establish where crimes are taking place or being planned.

“There is also a preventative element, ‘going equipped to steal’ type legislation, which is now taking place within social media and other environments, that we need to properly consider.

“There is also then the enforcement aspect, once an offence has already taken place.

“But by just focusing on the enforcement aspect, we are at risk of missing an issue.

“I think when we look at the processes that currently go on, around denial of service to internet sites, around harvesting people’s personal data, the development of malware – these are clearly issues embedded within some of the social media environment and other digital environments, which need to be challenged at an earlier stage if we are to take back some form of control within this sphere.”

Police are encountering problems dealing with online abuse on sites such as Twitter and Facebook – with celebrities complaining about online trolls.

Concerns have also been raised about victims of rape being identified online because laws which prevent this from happening in newspapers are not tough enough to enforce it on social media.