Scout leader and retired teacher among 78 held in child sex raids

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Almost 80 people including a Scout leader, a retired teacher and members of the Armed Forces have been arrested in raids as part of a national operation targeting suspected internet paedophiles.

Officers from more than 40 police forces executed more than 143 search warrants in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the 48-hour operation led by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop).

Of the 78 people arrested nationally, 16 were detained across Yorkshire.

South Yorkshire Police said nine men, aged between 44 and 60, were arrested on suspicion of possession of indecent images of children and their computers seized during raids. The searches also led to five children being taken into police protection owing to the poor conditions they were found living in. All nine were released on police bail pending further inquiries.

In North Yorkshire, four men were detained, including one who was charged and appeared before Scarborough magistrates’ court yesterday.

Michael Atherton, 40, from Scarborough, was remanded in custody after being charged with engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child; distributing an indecent photograph; and possession of an indecent image.

In addition, a 57-year-old from Harrogate, a 52-year-old from Stokesley and a 54-year-old from Whitby were arrested and released on bail pending further inquiries.

Humberside Police said a 44-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children and then bailed. West Yorkshire Police said the force executed five warrants and arrested two people.

Across the country, 80 children were “safeguarded” following the raids. One in four were found at the properties searched by police and more than 30 cases were referred to child services.

Most of the warrants related to image offences, including the possession and distribution of indecent pictures of children,

Among those arrested were a referee, a pathologist, Government employees, a firefighter, an outdoor activities instructor and a computer programmer.

Known offenders who had breached the conditions of the sex offenders’ register were also among those arrested in dawn raids on Tuesday and Wednesday. That number could still increase as Ceop wait for reports from two more police forces.

Ceop also published a report warning that anyone caught downloading child abuse images online poses a risk of committing physical sex attacks on children.

The report said one analysis showed 55 per cent of paedophiles who possess indecent images also commit sexual offences against children.

Kate Fisher, a principal analyst at Ceop, said: “The images being downloaded are increasingly becoming more extreme, sadistic and violent, and feature increasingly younger children.”

However, the severity and number of images held by offenders are not enough alone to assess the risk they pose or the sentence they should receive, the report said.

Ms Fisher said the dramatic increase in images being downloaded, and the cuts to police resources, meant officers struggled with the workload but stressed the notion that any case may result in the identification of a victim should be at the forefront of every investigation.

She added: “The levels of austerity and the caseload of indecent images of children is unprecedented. A quick and timely investigation for each case is increasingly unrealistic. Victim identification is the key element.”

Almost 100 case studies from 34 forces found offenders who both possessed child abuse images and attacked children were “almost exclusively white males”, most aged between 19 and 45.

One offender was found with 2.5 million still and moving images.

In 85 per cent of cases, offenders looking at indecent images of children did so at home, with the rest looking at images mainly at work. More than half of those living with a spouse or partner were also living with children.

Figures also showed referrals to Ceop increased by 181 per cent between April last year and March.