660 suspected paedophiles arrested in UK, 400 children 'safeguarded'

Wednesday 16 July 2014 21.20
The six-month operation targeted internet users who access child abuse images
The six-month operation targeted internet users who access child abuse images

A major sex crime crackdown has led to the arrest of 660 suspected paedophiles across the UK.

The UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) said more than 400 children "have been safeguarded".

The PSNI said it had carried out 15 searches across Northern Ireland and made 14 arrests as part of the operation.

In a statement, the PSNI said two children were identified to be at potential risk and were protected through social services.

The six-month operation targeted internet users who access child abuse images, but has already led to charges for serious sexual assault.

Of the 660, 39 people were registered sex offenders but the majority of those arrested in Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland had not previously come to police attention.

They include doctors, teachers, scout leaders, care workers and former police officers.

Charges brought so far range from possessing indecent images of children to serious sexual assault.

Officers have searched 833 properties and examined 9,172 computers, phones and hard drives.

The NCA said it built up "intelligence packages" on suspects and sent them to police forces across Britain.

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".