A MAJOR sex crime crackdown has led to the arrest of 660 suspected paedophiles across Britain, the National Crime Agency has said.

Hampshire Police have arrested 33 suspected paedophiles as part of the national operation targeting online child sex offenders.

And in Dorset, police have arrested eight suspected paedophiles.

Officers in both counties arrested the suspects, all men, during the six-month operation between the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

Hampshire Detective Chief Inspector Becky Riggs said: “Our announcement of the results of the operation marks the culmination of six months of covert work by our dedicated officers. “Online child sexual abuse is one of the areas we investigate as part of our work tackling child abuse and child sexual exploitation in general. Online offences can involve actual physical abuse and grooming as well as the making, possession and distribution of indecent images of children.

“All are criminal offences and a form of child abuse. They are not victimless crimes. Each time an image is shared, it further victimises that child.

“The fact it’s happening online makes this an international problem but it still can have an impact locally. That’s why it’s important we work together with our national and international law enforcement partners through the National Crime Agency to share information, identify children at risk and bring offenders to justice.”

Detective Inspector Pete Little, of the Public Protection Unit, said: “The aim of this operation was to protect children who are victims of, or might be at risk of, sexual exploitation.

He said: “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. We know that some of the people who start by accessing indecent images online go on to abuse children directly.”

The NCA developed and disseminated intelligence packages about suspected offenders and passed those to forces across the UK.

Det Insp Little continued: “This has not only been about catching people who have already offended – it is also about influencing potential abusers before they cross that horrific line.

“Offenders need to know that the internet is not a safe anonymous space for accessing indecent images. They leave a digital footprint and we will find it.”

The operation is ongoing but as of midday on July 11, 2014, 431 children have been safeguarded and more than 600 people have been arrested across the UK.

The offences range from accessing indecent images of children to serious sexual assault.

The Paedophile Online Investigation Team can be contacted on 101. In an emergency, always dial 999.