TWENTY-one suspected paedophiles have been arrested in Cheshire following a national police operation targeting people accessing child abuse images online.
Cheshire Constabulary is one of 45 forces taking part in Operation Notarise, which has already led to 660 arrests and protected 400 children.
Some of those arrested had unsupervised access to children through their work and included 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 the police’s attention.
The six-month operation had remained top secret until yesterday in order to protect children, identify offenders and secure evidence.
Police and the National Crime Agency (NCA) are not revealing the methods they used to track down suspects so that they can use the same tactics again in the future.
The 21 men in Cheshire are now on bail pending further police enquiries.
Nationally, charging decisions are awaited in most cases but so far charges brought range from possessing indecent images of children to serious sexual assault.
Supt Geraint Jones, of Cheshire Constabulary, said: “There is no hiding place for those who seek to abuse children in Cheshire. The constabulary has a dedicated team whose role is to pursue the online paedophile, and ensure they are brought to justice. That team has worked long and hard in support of Operation Notarise, and 21 people have been arrested and are on bail.
“More arrests will be made – our work will continue.
“We also work very closely with our partners in safeguarding to protect those children who are vulnerable to exploitation.”
NCA Deputy Director General Phil Gormley said: “This is the first time the UK has had the capability to co-ordinate a single targeted operation of this nature.
“Over the past six months we have seen unprecedented levels of co-operation 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.
“Some of the people who start by accessing indecent images online go on to abuse children directly.
“Te 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. 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”.
Speaking after a briefing yesterday, Supt Jones said: “Our priority is to protect children from harm, and to identify and bring to account those who would seek to cause harm.
“Such offenders need to know that the internet is not a safe, anonymous place for accessing indecent images. Also helpful is the information that our communities can share with us.
“If you have concerns about someone you know, share them. Every piece of information we receive is diligently followed up and acted upon. You too, can help to keep our children safe.”
Anyone with information can contact police on the non emergency number 101.
Information can also be left anonymously on the Crimestoppers hotline 0800 555 111.