A six month investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and 45 police forces across the UK has snared 660 suspected paedophiles.
Those arrested include doctors, teachers, scout leaders, care workers and former police officers, with the majority previously unknown to the police.
39 of the people arrested were already on the Sex Offenders Register.
The operation targeted people accessing indecent images of children on the so-called “dark net” which hosts content that is unavailable through a search on Google or other search engines. However, the NCA has not revealed further details of the operation so that they may use similar techniques in the future.
NCA Deputy Director General Phil Gormley said:
“This is the first time the UK has had the capability to coordinate a single targeted operation of this nature. Over the past six months we have seen unprecedented levels of cooperation to deliver this result.
“Our aim was to protect children who were victims of, or might be at risk of, sexual exploitation. A child is victimised not only when they are abused and an image is taken. They are re-victimised every time that image is viewed by someone.
“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
2We 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”
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Policing Lead for Child Protection and Abuse Investigations, said:
“Sexual abuse is a complex crime taking many forms. 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. 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.”
Claire Lilley, Head of Online Safety at the NSPCC commented:
“Law enforcement agencies alone cannot deal with the vast problem of illegal images which continue to flood the market. Industry has to find inventive ways of blocking the flow of such horrendous pictures which are only produced through the suffering of defenceless children – many of who are not even old enough to go to school.
“So while this operation must be rightly applauded we should view it as yet another warning sign that far more needs to be done if we are to stem the sordid trade in these images, which are often used by those who go on to abuse children.”
If you are a child and you want to speak to someone in confidence about any issue that is upsetting you, you can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 or visit the Childline website to chat to a counsellor in confidence.
If you are an adult and you have concerns about a child you can speak to the NSPCC adult helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org