More than a hundred people in positions of trust among those arrested since March, newly released figures reveal.
Rises in reported abuse cannot solely be pinned on the ‘Savile effect’ – a surge in confidence among victims of being heard. Photograph: Indigo/Getty Images
A senior police chief has expressed fears that child abuse in Britain is on the rise as new data revealed teachers and medical staff were among hundreds of potential sex offenders arrested in the last nine months.
Chief constable Simon Bailey, the national policing lead for child protection, said it was his professional opinion that higher figures reflected more abuse being perpetrated rather than an increase in the number of victims coming forward.
Bailey’s admission is significant as recent rises in reported abuse have regularly been pinned on the “Savile effect” – a surge in confidence among victims as a result of allegations made against the disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile.
Bailey said: “Do I professionally think more abuse is being perpetrated? Yes. Have I got the evidence to support that at this moment in time. No. Am I going to try to find it? Yes I am.”
Some 104 people in positions of trust were among 682 potential sex offenders arrested since March, according to figures from the National Crime Agency and police.
Among these figures are 32 working in education, 23 working in medicine and care, 15 working in law enforcement, criminal justice, armed forces and government. There were no MPs or lords arrested.
Of those arrested, 93% were not previously known to law enforcement in relation to child abuse and 147 have been charged.
In addition, in the six months to September this year, 187 British victims of abuse have been identified in seized indecent images – already higher than the 177 identified in the previous 12 months.
A total of 399 children have been safeguarded as a result of the operation.
“We now have to ask ourselves is it simply the case of confidence in victims coming forward, or is there simply more abuse being perpetrated.”
Bailey said there were niche areas of child abuse – including grooming and live streaming of abuse – that were still not fully understood.
Among those arrested was a man found to have one of the largest indecent image collections ever seized – with more than 500,000 abuse pictures found. The suspect, who had worked with children before retirement and had previous sexual offence convictions in Australia, was charged and pleaded guilty to 10 sexual offences. He awaits sentencing.
More than 600 properties have been searched, while 46 registered sex offenders were among those held.
he collaborative work between the NCA and police comes after Operation Notarise, which targeted people accessing online images and was publicised in July last year.
In October last year, the-then NCA director, Keith Bristow, warned that some of the sex offenders who downloaded child abuse images would escape prosecution. Bristow said it was an uncomfortable truth that some of those in the UK who regularly accessed indecent images of children would not end up facing justice.
An NSPCC spokesman said: “This excellent police work has uncovered a dark underbelly of child abuse crime that, frighteningly, only reveals a part of the picture. The operation clearly shows the vast scale of the problem and the serious risk posed to children by offenders within all elements of society.
“The number of offenders identified in positions of trust – health workers, teachers or in those in caring professions – is deeply disturbing. And equally worrying is the fact that nearly all of those caught were not known to police.
“There is no doubt law enforcement agencies have made major progress in tackling this type of offence, which is ruining the lives of untold numbers of children. But there is still a long way to go and we can only prevent more victims falling prey to sex offenders by remaining committed to tackling this appalling crime and by showing children how to help protect themselves.”