A Scout volunteer, church youth group leaders, a social worker, teachers and a police officer were among those detained.
Investigators have arrested 320 of the UK’s most dangerous child sex offenders since the first coronavirus lockdown, it has been revealed.
The round-up formed part of a nationwide police operation to target online predators during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen internet usage soar, including for home learning with schools closed.It led to a total of 4,760 arrests and saw 6,500 children protected between April and September last year.
The figures were released as the Home Office launched a national initiative focused on collecting more detailed data about child grooming gangs.
The Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy aims to identify and convict offenders who operate in groups by gathering more information about the characteristics of gangs, including their ethnicity.
It also involves investing in the national child abuse image database to more quickly identify offenders, protecting police from frequently being exposed to indecent images, and enabling parents to ask officers if someone with access to their child is known to them for cases of abuse.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said victims of child sexual abuse had told her they feel “let down by the state” and that she was “determined to put this right”.
Last year, the National Crime Agency (NCA) assessed there were at least 300,000 people posing a sexual threat to children in the UK and warned of a spike in online abuse during the coronavirus pandemic.
Rob Jones, an NCA director, welcomed the strategy “at a time when the threat to children is more severe than it has ever been”.
Out of the 320 arrested as part of the operation tracking the most dangerous child sex offenders, 122 were targeted by NCA officers.
Of those, 17 were in positions of trust – including a volunteer with the Scouts, church youth group leaders, a social worker, primary school and college teachers, a hospital care assistant, a police officer, and a civil servant.
Mr Jones said: “The internet has undeniable benefits to society and now more than ever is playing a key part of our children’s education.
“Unfortunately, it also enables criminals to commit horrific crimes against children through grooming, live-streaming and distribution of indecent images.”
He added: “Many feel they can operate with impunity online – using anonymisation techniques, secure accounts and the dark web – but as we have shown with this operation they are wrong and we have the capabilities to track them down.”
He went on: “These are not just images or videos being viewed online. What we are uncovering here is evidence of the horrific, real-world sexual abuse of children.”