#childpredator | More than 100 suspected paedophiles snared in a year by undercover team

A specialist crime team in the West Midlands that targets paedophiles has  arrested more than 100 people in the last 12 months.

The Regional Organised Crime Unit snare sex offenders with accounts on a number of social media and messaging sites.

They actively look for those who are seeking to groom children online, but intercept them before they get the chance.

In a period of a year from July 2019 to June 2020 they have arrested 110 people for child sexual offences across the region.

So far, a total of 45 have been convicted in court and jailed, with a combined sentence of 130 years.

Others are currently awaiting trial or are still being investigated.

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During the coronavirus lockdown, the team say they have received an increased number of referrals for suspicious online activity as predators take advantage of children away from school spending more time online.

Detective Inspector Stephen Wills from the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) said: “In the first three months of the lockdown we arrested 27 suspects and safeguarded 33 children we believed were being groomed online.

“But we expect to see a further increase in reporting to us as we emerge from lockdown, children return to school, and more offences or suspicious activity come to light.”

Under an operation codenamed Project Atari, which launched in 2017, the team has arrested more than 250 believed to be trying to groom children over the internet.

So far 124 have been convicted in court and jailed for a total of 314 years.

Almost all of those convicted admitted their guilt at court which is testament to the strength of the evidence gathered by the specialist ROCU unit.

Det Insp Wills added: “Vigilante ‘paedophile hunter’ groups have emerged in recent times and there seems to be a perception police are not doing this work – but that’s absolutely not the case. We’ve been active online, working alongside social media providers, and protecting children for many years and with great success.

“Project Atari’s intention is to safeguard children in the West Midlands but the very nature of the internet and online interactions means targets can be anywhere in the country, indeed anywhere in the world.

“We have sent evidential packages to almost every police force in the UK and law enforcement agencies in Europe and beyond.

“Of the 252 people arrested, 85 were offenders looking to harm children in the communities of West Midlands, West Mercia, Warwickshire and Staffordshire.

“I am very proud to say that our team has directly safeguarded 413 vulnerable children over the last few years and have indirectly safeguarded approximately 10,000 children that the offenders had direct access to either through the internet, through their work, social life or family.”

One recent case saw officers lying in wait at a Birmingham park for a man who believed he’d planned to meet a 12-year-old girl.

The 41-year-old has since been charged with child sex offences and remanded in prison ahead of an appearance at Birmingham Crown Court on September 29.

Det Insp Wills, continued: “Youngsters can be badly scarred psychologically and emotionally through online exchanges with these offenders.

“It can have a devastating effect on the lives of victims and a child’s safety is at the forefront of all operational and investigative activity.

“We want to create an environment of disruption, fear and apprehension amongst people who operate online to sexually abuse children.

“But everyone has a role to play. We’d ask parents to be intrusive in their children’s online activity. Do you know who they are talking to? And if anyone has suspicions that a child is being groomed then please contact the police.

“And if anyone is concerned about someone’s online behaviour, or suspects they are grooming children, then please get in touch so we can investigate.”




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