Belfast Telegraph

Paedophile probe: 14 Northern Ireland arrests 'just the tip of iceberg'

By Deborah McAleese

The arrest of 14 suspected paedophiles in Northern Ireland during a massive UK-wide police operation is just the tip of the iceberg, a child protection expert has warned.

Doctors, teachers, care workers and former police officers are among more than 600 suspected paedophiles arrested across the UK as part of a crackdown on online exploitation of children.

The investigation, involving every police force in Britain and Northern Ireland and coordinated by the National Crime Agency (NCA), took six months to complete.

The PSNI said they arrested 14 people and carried out 15 searches in relation to the probe.

Two children identified as being at potential risk here have been protected through social services as a result of the investigation.

Jim Gamble, former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, said a significant amount of work would have been carried out to track down the alleged offenders, but warned that many more were still "accessing these dark parts of the internet". He added: "It is just the tip of the iceberg. Let's hope this is now a persistent thing and they continue to go after those individuals who access those parts of the internet."

He also raised concern that 39 of the 660 people arrested were registered sex offenders being managed in the community.

"They were on a supposed managed regime so why were they able to continue to go onto these sites?

"Registered sex offenders should be intrusively managed to such a degree that they do not know when someone is going to come and check their computer," added Mr Gamble.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said the targets of the probe were people accessing indecent images of children online.

"The majority of these people were not yet known to police – they are now, and they will stay in our sights," he said.

"A child is victimised not only when they are abused and an image is taken, but they are revictimised every time that image is viewed by someone.

"Offenders possessing indecent images of children online should know that the internet is not a safe hiding place. We will continue to use a range of investigative techniques targeting all forms of abuse to protect children and vulnerable people and bring offenders to justice."

Mr Harris said officers routinely police the internet to protect children from harm.

The paedophile probe has reignited a debate over the operation of the NCA in Northern Ireland. The agency cannot take the lead in operations here due to a political row at Stormont.

Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said this operation "clearly identifies the importance of allowing the NCA to operate in Northern Ireland".

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