682 suspected paedophiles held in online child abuse probe in nine months


Nearly 700 suspected paedophiles have been arrested in nationwide operations targeting online child abuse images.

Around one in seven of those held were employed in or volunteered in "positions of trust" - including individuals in the teaching, medical, law enforcement, criminal justice and government sectors.

A total of 682 people were arrested in the UK on suspicion of accessing indecent images of children in the last nine months as part of co-ordinated activity by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and 40 police forces.

To date 147 people have been charged, while 399 children have been safeguarded by authorities.

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.  

:: 24 in voluntary positions.

More than 600 properties have been searched, while 46 registered sex offenders were among those held.

Simon Bailey, of the National Police Chiefs' Council, said 93% of those arrested 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.

"Our focus has got to be on working proactively with other agencies to protect the public from harm committed on or offline, with particular focus on those who are most vulnerable."

Officers said the activity is ongoing and the figures will continue to grow.

Johnny Gwynne, of the NCA, also 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.

"Ultimately all of this is about keeping children safe."

A string of high-profile historic paedophile allegations have emerged in recent years on the back of revelations about the late Jimmy Savile's prolific offending.

Figures have revealed reports of sexual offences have been rising rapidly.

Mr Bailey, the national lead for child protection, said he believes more abuse is being committed today.

"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," he said.

"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."

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 operation clearly shows the vast scale of the problem and the serious risk posed to children by offenders within all elements of society.

"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.

"There is no doubt law enforcement agencies have made major progress in tackling this type of offence, which is ruining the lives of untold numbers of children.

"But there is still a long way to go and we can only prevent more victims falling prey to sex offenders by remaining committed to tackling this appalling crime and by showing children how to help protect themselves."