Police in Northern Ireland have arrested 14 suspected paedophiles as part of a UK-wide crackdown on online exploitation of children.
Two children identified as being at potential risk in the region have been protected through social services as a result of the National Crime Agency (NCA) co-ordinated investigation.
The NCA cannot take the lead in operations in Northern Ireland due to a political row at Stormont that has prevented it fully functioning in the region.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) carried out the 14 arrests and also undertook 15 searches.
Across the UK, 660 people including doctors, teachers and former police officers were detained as part of the NCA’s six-month investigation into obscene images of children appearing on the internet.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said: “The aim of this operation is to protect children who are victims of, or might be at risk of, sexual exploitation.
“The targets were people accessing indecent images of children online and the majority of these people were not yet known to police - they are now, and they will stay in our sights.
“Two children were identified in Northern Ireland to be at potential risk and have been protected through social services.
“A child is victimised not only when they are abused and an image is taken, but they are re-victimised every time that image is viewed by someone.
“We have identified that many offenders who start by accessing indecent images online go on to abuse children directly so the operation is not only about detecting people who have already offended - it is about reducing the risk of serious harm to children.
“Offenders possessing indecent images of children online should know that the internet is not a safe hiding place. We will continue to use a range of investigative techniques targeting all forms of abuse to protect children and vulnerable people and bring offenders to justice.
“Officers working in the PSNI and Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) routinely work side by side with professionals from the wider child protection community and industry to identify the main threats to children and coordinate activity against these threats to bring offenders to account.
“They routinely police the internet to protect children from harm online and offline and pursue those who sexually exploit and abuse children, prevent people becoming involved in child sexual exploitation, protect children from becoming victims of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, and prepare interventions to reduce the impact of child sexual exploitation and abuse through safeguarding and child protection work.”
Mr Harris said as the operation remained ongoing it would be inappropriate to go into further detail on the PSNI’s actions.