POLICE in Mid Devon are tracking the ‘digital footprints’ of child abusers to try and prevent crime.

Devon and Cornwall Police, working with the National Crime Agency and the Association of Chief Police Officers, have staged an unprecedented operation to protect children across the peninsula by targeting paedophiles who access indecent images of children online.

During the operation officers executed 32 warrants across the region, resulting in 22 arrests – all the suspects are currently on police bail.

The focus of the investigation was to prevent child abuse before it happens and safeguard children who are victims or might be at risk of sexual exploitation.

A child is victimised not only when they are abused and an image is taken, but also each time the image is viewed.

Seven warrants were also executed, targeting people who had viewed indecent images of children online, which were not part of the NCA operation, leading to seven further arrests.

The overall policing operation was led by the Public Protection Unit, supported by officers from the Force Support Group and Local Investigation teams.

This direct action identified children who were at risk who are now safe and protected due to the support provided by the police and Children’s Services.

Det Ch Insp Brett Mitchell, of the Public Protection Unit, said: “We know some of the people who access indecent images of children online go on to abuse children directly, and this operation has been focused on preventing this from happening.

“Targeting offenders who access indecent images of children online influences potential abusers, preventing children from becoming victims of sexual abuse.

“The internet isn’t a safe space for paedophiles to access and view indecent images of children – their activity leaves a digital footprint which we will find.

“We have a team of specially trained detectives in our Public Protection Unit, dedicated to finding and prosecuting paedophiles, and they are making arrests every day across the force.

“Devon and Cornwall Police will continue to target paedophiles as part of our daily operational activity as we’re committed to protecting children and finding people who believe it’s acceptable to commit this crime.”