A NEW support centre has opened claiming to offer advice and a safe place to go for young people who may be at risk of being groomed.

Set up by Parents Against Grooming (PAG), the shop, in Warner Street in Accrington, is being run by PAG members Billy Howarth and John Cartwright.

Mr Howarth, of Rochdale, said he set the original PAG group up about seven years ago in response to being directly affected by the Rochdale grooming gangs scandal, and wanted to provide a place where anyone else affected by the events could go and talk and receive advice from qualified support workers.

Mr Howarth said: “We felt the whole Rochdale grooming gang scandal wasn’t dealt with properly so we set the group up to push the council for answers.

“Over the years we changed and we now offer survivor support and early intervention.

“We had a few reports of alleged grooming in this area so decided to open one of our centres here.”

Mr Howarth said contrary to popular belief, PAG is not a vigilante paedophile hunting group, but a group that wants to build community cohesion and work with the police by offering workshops in self defence, alcohol and drug awareness and domestic abuse.

Mr Cartwright, of Accrington, said he grew up in the social care system and saw a lot of bad things, and wanted to do something about it.

He said: “We do a lot of park patrols in areas where there’s been reports of grooming activity and then pass information on to the police.

“We don’t approach people ourselves. Our main aim is protecting the young people involved and educating parents.”

A spokesperson for the police said: “We understand the desire to protect children but any member of the public who has information about child sexual abuse, online or otherwise, should get in contact with the police so we can investigate and bring people to justice.

“So called paedophile hunters are taking risks they don’t understand and can undermine police investigations.

“Most importantly, unlike our officers, they have no way of safeguarding child victims.

“The increase in these groups is symptomatic of the increasing scale of child sexual abuse that police are dealing with.

“It reinforces the need for technology companies to do more to prevent offenders using their platforms to prey on children and for children to be educated about healthy relationships and staying safe online.”

PAG is open from 10am until 4pm, Monday to Saturday.