CHESHIRE Constabulary has arrested 21 people from across the county as part of a nationwide operation to target online paedophiles.

The unprecedented six-month operation, coordinated by the NCA and involving police forces across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has led to the arrest of 660 suspected paedophiles in total.

The constabulary estimate more than 400 children across the UK have been safeguarded by the operation.

Those arrested range between 31 to 66-years-old.

There were six arrests in the constabulary’s eastern division, three in western, nine in Warrington and three in Halton.

The operation targeted people accessing indecent images of children online. It has stayed covert until this week in order to protect children, identify offenders and secure evidence. Police and the NCA are not revealing the methods they used to track down suspects so that they can use the same tactics again in the future.

NCA Deputy Director General Phil Gormley said: "This is the first time the UK has had the capability to coordinate a single targeted operation of this nature. Over the past six months we have seen unprecedented levels of cooperation to deliver this result.

"Our aim was to protect children who were victims of, or might be at risk of, sexual exploitation. A child is victimised not only when they are abused and an image is taken. They are re-victimised every time that image is viewed by someone.

"Some of the people who start by accessing indecent images online go on to abuse children directly. So the operation is not only about catching people who have already offended − it is about influencing potential offenders before they cross that line.”

Some of those arrested had unsupervised access to children in the course of their work. They include doctors, teachers, scout leaders, care workers and former police officers.

Of the 660, 39 people were Registered Sex Offenders but the majority of those arrested had not previously come to law enforcement′s attention.

Anyone with information or concerns for someone they known can contact police on the non emergency number 101.

Information can also be left anonymously on the Crimestoppers hotline 0800 555 111.