An unprecedented six-month operation coordinated by the NCA and involving 45 police forces across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has led to the arrest of 660 suspected paedophiles.
More than 400 children across the UK have been safeguarded.
Some of those arrested had unsupervised access to children in the course of their work. They include doctors, teachers, scout leaders, care workers and former police officers.
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 operation targeted people accessing indecent images of children online. It has stayed covert till today in order to protect children, identify offenders and secure evidence. The NCA and its partners are not revealing the methods they used to track down suspects so that they can use the same tactics again in the future.
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 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
“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”.
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.
“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. Chief officers are committed using all the tools available to them because nothing is more important in policing than protecting vulnerable people”.
John Carr, Secretary, UK Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety:
“This huge operation provides another distressing illustration of the scale of online offending against children but perhaps more importantly it also sends out a very clear warning to paedophiles and collectors of indecent images everywhere that the internet is increasingly becoming a very hostile environment for them. Police forces all over the world are co-operating on an unprecedented scale in pursuit of online child sex offenders and they are deploying technical tools to track them down with ever greater effectiveness.
Claire Lilley, Head of Online Safety at the NSPCC:
“This is an important two-pronged operation which has rescued children from abuse and also identified many previously unknown sex offenders. Direct action like this sends a strong message to those who subject children to harrowing sexual assaults that they can and will be traced and prosecuted.
“But 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 have concerns about a child or young person, or if you are a child or young person and someone has asked you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable either on or offline, you can report through the CEOP safety centre at www.ceop.police.uk
CEOP's 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.
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 to chat to a counsellor in confidence.
If you have a real emergency or need immediate help you should call 999 or contact your local police.
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is a registered child protection charity dedicated to reducing the risk of children being sexually abused. It works with entire families affected by sexual abuse, including adult male and female sexual abusers, young people with inappropriate sexual behaviours, victims of abuse, and other family members. More information for adults concerned about their own behaviour, or that of someone they know, is available from Stopitnow. More information for parents is available from ParentsProtect.