Teachers and health workers among 682 arrested in online child abuse probe


Teachers, medical staff and law enforcement officials are among hundreds of suspected paedophiles arrested in a nationwide crackdown on internet child abuse images, it has been revealed.

A total of 682 people have been held around the country in the last nine months, including 104 - around one in seven - who held "positions of trust".

All have been detained on suspicion of accessing indecent images of children online in co-ordinated activity by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and 40 police forces.

As of the end of last month, 147 people have been charged, 399 children have been safeguarded and more than 600 properties have been searched, while officers say the work is ongoing and the numbers will continue to grow.

Nearly all of those arrested were not previously on authorities' radar in relation to child abuse.

As the details emerged, one of the country's most senior officers suggested that the scale of abuse being carried out is rising.

A string of high-profile historic paedophile allegations have emerged in recent years in the wake of revelations about the late Jimmy Savile's prolific offending and statistics have revealed that rapidly increasing numbers of sexual offences are being reported to police.

Simon Bailey, lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs' Council, said: "There can be little doubt in my mind that victims' confidence, society's confidence in the ability of the police service to respond to the threat, has been significantly improved and enhanced since the horrors of Jimmy Savile back in 2012.

"But we now have to ask ourselves, is it simply a case of greater confidence of victims coming forward or is more abuse simply now being perpetrated?"

He added: "Do I professionally think that more abuse is being perpetrated? Yes.

"Have I got the evidence to support that at this moment in time? No.

"Am I going to try and find it? Yes, I am."

Statistics on the activity published by the NCA on Thursday reveal that those arrested who held positions of trust include 32 in teaching and education, 23 in medical or care work, 15 in law enforcement, criminal justice, armed forces or government roles and 24 in voluntary positions.

There were 46 registered sex offenders among all of those arrested but Mr Bailey said 93% were not previously known to law enforcement agencies in relation to child abuse. 

He said: "If we hadn't gone out looking for them as we have done, they would have remained under the radar and the nearly 400 children we've safeguarded since then would still be at risk.

"Today's results demonstrate a new level of intent to stop offenders viewing indecent images and abusing children, and a new sophistication in our tactics.

"These operations are directed at those involved in the vile industry built around indecent images of children but this is part of a wider change in approach for the police service."

Investigators are seizing huge volumes of material.

"That routinely can be hundreds of thousands of images and hours and hours and hours of video recordings," Mr Bailey added.

"There can be absolutely no doubt that technology is being used in a way now that it was never, ever intended to be used. We are faced with a really, really significant challenge."

In one case linked to the operations, more than 500,000 indecent images were discovered, while offenders arrested have gone on to admit "contact" offences including rape.

Johnny Gwynne, of the NCA, revealed that record numbers of victims captured in indecent images are being identified and protected.

"In 2014-15 this was 177, the highest ever figure, and in the first six months of this year we have already gone well beyond that, with 187 victims identified," he said.

An NSPCC spokesman said: "This excellent police work has uncovered a dark underbelly of child abuse crime that, frighteningly, only reveals a part of the picture.

"The number of offenders identified in positions of trust - health workers, teachers or in those in caring professions - is deeply disturbing. And equally worrying is the fact that nearly all of those caught were not known to police."