MORE than 600 suspected paedophiles, including doctors, teachers and former police officers, scout leaders and care workers have been arrested across Britain after a six-month investigation led by the National Crime Agency.

Cheshire Constabulary is one of 45 police forces taking part in the first nationwide investigation of its kind which has led to more than 400 children being taken into care.

Of the 660, 39 people were registered sex offenders but the vast majority were not known to police.

The operation targeted people accessing indecent images of children online.

It has stayed secret until today to protect children, identify offenders and secure evidence.

Investigators are not revealing the methods they used to track down suspects so that they can use the same tactics in the future.

In Cheshire, 21 men have been arrested and are on bail pending further police enquiries.

Supt Geraint Jones of Cheshire Constabulary said, "There is no hiding place for those who seek to abuse children in Cheshire.

“The Constabulary has a dedicated team whose role is relentlessly to pursue the online paedophile, and ensure they are brought to justice.

“That team has worked long and hard in support of Operation Notarise, and 21 people have been arrested and are on bail.

“More arrests will be made. Our work will continue. We also work very closely with our partners in safeguarding to protect those children who are vulnerable to exploitation."

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 "We want those offenders to know that the internet is not a safe anonymous space for accessing indecent images, that they leave a digital footprint, and that law enforcement will find it".

Chief Con Simon Bailey, the national policing lead for child protection and abuse onvestigations, said: "Sexual abuse is a complex crime taking many forms.

"The vast majority of forces around England and Wales are dealing with an unprecedented increase in the number of reports of sexual abuse of children.

"Forces are investigating exploitation of children and young people by groups and gangs, non-recent abuse including large scale investigations into abuse in institutions over many years and sexual abuse by parents and family members.

"During this operation, we′ve targeted offenders accessing child abuse images.

"Police must continue to use a range of investigative techniques targeting all forms of abuse if we going to protect children and bring offenders to justice.

"Chief Officers are committed using all the tools available to them because nothing is more important in policing than protecting vulnerable people".

Supt Jones of the Cheshire Constabulary added: "Our priority is to protect children from harm, and to identify and bring to account those who would seek to cause harm.

"Such offenders need to know that the internet is not a safe, anonymous place for accessing indecent images. They leave a digital footprint and we will find it.

"Also helpful is the information that our communities can share with us. If you have concerns about someone you know, share them. Every piece of information we receive is diligently followed up and acted upon. You too, can help to keep our children safe."

Anyone with information can contact Cheshire Police on 101 or call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.