Warwickshire Police has arrested 11 suspects as part of a national operation that has seen 660 people detained and questioned about sharing indecent images of children online.
The UK-wide operation, which was publicly launched this morning, was co-ordinated by the National Crime Agency, which n recent months it has been sending intelligence to forces across England and Wales about suspected paedophiles in their areas who are using the web.
Investigations were launched into each of these individuals and a succession of search warrants was executed at their home addresses. Warwickshire Police currently has those 11 people on police bail as further work is carried out to establish if they possessed indecent images of children and if they were sharing them with others via the internet.
Many of those arrested had some form of access to children and more than 400 children across the UK have been protected from harm, with 31 in the Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police area.
The operation was co-ordinated at a regional level with Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police working with Staffordshire Police and West Midlands Police. Across the West Midlands region, 74 people were arrested and 44 children protected.
Detective Superintendent Steve Cullen of Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police co-ordinated the operation in the West Midlands. He said: “This was is unprecedented, UK-wide operation that aimed to target those people using the internet to access indecent images of children. We want to protect children who are victims of, or might be at risk of, sexual exploitation.
“Children are victimised not only when they are abused and an image is first taken. They are victimised repeatedly every time that image is viewed.
“This is the first time we have been able to speak about the operation publicly because our priority has been to protect children, identify offenders and secure evidence.
“Over several months we worked closely with the national policing agencies, the other West Midlands forces and bodies such as local Children’s Services and the Worcestershire-based child protection charity, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
“We have been able to identify victims and ensure they get the proper support and care.
“Child abusers need to know that the internet is not a safe space for them to operate. They leave a digital footprint and we will find it.
“The evidence indicates that the majority of these suspects were not previously known to law enforcement agencies, certainly in a child protection context. They are now, and they will stay in our sights.
“We still have a lot of work to do to assess what offences have been committed and, where we have sufficient evidence, to charge those we have arrested.
“I would like to take this opportunity to encourage anybody who suspects someone is exploiting children online please report it to the police immediately.”
Donald Findlater, director of research and development at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, said: “Our child sexual abuse prevention helpline is taking an increasing number of calls from men who are concerned about their online behaviour as well as from their families and friends.
“Thousands of men have called following their arrest for possession of indecent images of children. Thousands of (mostly) women have called because of a partner’s arrest, or simply because of a concern about their partner’s sexual behaviour towards children.”
The charity’s Stop it Now! helpline provides confidential advice, support and help to ensure that children are kept safe. This includes supporting those who have offended online to take responsibility for their abusive behaviour as well as supporting their family and friends to help manage future risk.
Mr Findlater added: “However many are arrested for possession of indecent images of children, there are hundreds or thousands more who have viewed such images and have not yet been arrested. We urge all such men - young and old alike - to contact the helpline for help to stop their illegal and harmful behaviour.
“Not only do children continue to be harmed by this inappropriate use of their images, but also the offender risks losing friends, family, job, reputation and more should their offending come to light.”
Call 0808 1000 900 for confidential help.
Police urge anyone with concerns about a child or young person, or any child or young person who has been asked to do something that has made them feel uncomfortable, either on or offline, to call the non-emergency police number, 101.
People can also report concerns through www.ceop.police.uk.
The police have not yet disclosed where in Warwickshire the arrests took place.