Six quizzed in child sex probe
Five of the six people arrested as part of a major PSNI investigation into child sexual exploitation have been released.
Five men, aged between 19 and 56, were arrested in Ballymena yesterday morning on suspicion of rape and other related offences.
A 48-year-old female was also arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting rape and false imprisonment.
Last night police said three men aged 23, 42 and 56, and a woman aged 48 had been released on police bail pending further inquiries.
A 19-year-old man was released pending a report to the Public Prosecution Service. A 27-year-old man remained in custody.
The PSNI said the arrests were not part of an investigation into organised abuse by a group, but formed part of a wider probe into child sexual exploitation.
Last year an independent inquiry found that child sexual exploitation was a "growing threat" to young people in Northern Ireland.
The Marshall inquiry also said it heard that individuals with links to paramilitary groups may have abused children.
The inquiry did not find the type of organised exploitation seen in Rotherham and Rochdale, but said that child sexual exploitation "must be regarded as a significant and growing threat to the welfare of children and young people".
Following yesterday's arrests, a number of searches were also carried out and several items removed for further examination.
Detective Chief Inspector Deirdre Bones, from the PSNI's Public Protection Branch, said the PSNI is committed to tackling child sexual exploitation.
"These arrests reflect our determination to apprehend those suspected of coercing, exploiting and abusing children and young people in this manner," she said.
"It is important to note that although these arrests all took place in the Ballymena area, the suspects are not all linked to each other. This is not about organised sexual abuse by a group of people.
"The arrests are part of a wider PSNI investigation focused on child sexual exploitation.
"The PSNI works closely with our partner agencies and this collaborative approach means we can focus our resources to prevent harm, detect crime and protect people," she added.
"We all have a responsibility to tackle this issue and protect those most vulnerable in our society.
"Child sexual exploitation is something that parents and carers everywhere need to be aware of.
"Think about what your children are doing, where they are going and who they are meeting."
Ms Bones advised parents or guardians that if they notice any changes in their child's behaviour or if they receive unexplained gifts that cannot be accounted for, such as jewellery or mobile phones, it is important to take action.