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UK-wide police operation snares 660 suspected paedophiles

More than 400 children in the UK have been taken into safety, and 660 suspected paedophiles arrested, in a major police operation.

Officers targeted people who had accessed indecent images of youngsters online as part of an "unprecedented" six-month operation co-ordinated by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and involving 45 police forces across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Among those detained were scout leaders, doctors, teachers, and care workers.

The NCA believes some of those arrested had unsupervised access to children in the course of their work.

Of the 660, 39 people were Registered Sex Offenders but the majority of those arrested had not previously come to law enforcement's attention.

The high number of arrests shows the internet is playing an increasing role in regards to how individuals groom children and gain contact with children, according to Simon Bass, CEO of CCPAS (The Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service), speaking to Premier's Des Busteed on the News Hour he said: "we need to recognise that individuals who have a sexual interest in children are turning to the internet. And of course, images are readily available. And such is the advancement of technology it means that more and more individuals will turn to that."

The operation targeted people accessing indecent images of children online. It has stayed covert until today in order to protect children, identify offenders and secure evidence.

The NCA and its partners say they are not revealing the methods they used to track down suspects so that they can use the same tactics again in the future.

It's understood that charging decisions are awaited in most cases because of ongoing enquiries but so far charges brought range from possessing indecent images of children to serious sexual assault.

NCA Deputy Director, General Phil Gormley, is hoping the arrests will act as a deterrant to potential offenders in the furture.

He said: "Some of the people who start by accessing indecent images online go on to abuse children directly.

"So the operation is not only about catching people who have already offended, it is about influencing potential offenders before they cross that line.

"We want those offenders to know that the internet is not a safe anonymous space for accessing indecent images, that they leave a digital footprint, and that law enforcement will find it."

According to the NCA, it's first time the UK has had the capability to co-ordinate a single targeted operation of this nature, with "unprecedented" levels of cooperation reportedly delivered between the different agencies over the past six months.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey from the National Policing Lead for Child Protection and Abuse Investigations said the vast majority of forces around England and Wales are dealing with an unprecedented increase in the number of reports of sexual abuse of children.

He said: "Forces are investigating exploitation of children and young people by groups and gangs, non-recent abuse including large scale investigations into abuse in institutions over many years and sexual abuse by parents and family members.

During this operation, we've targeted offenders accessing child abuse images. Police must continue to use a range of investigative techniques targeting all forms of abuse if we going to protect children and bring offenders to justice."

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre Thinkuknow programme provides information for children, young people, parents and carers about staying safe online and preventing sexual abuse and exploitation.

Parents and carers can visit Thinkuknow for advice on keeping their children safe.

Hear more from Simon Bass, CEO of CCPAS:

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