THREE men from the Stafford area are among 19 arrested by Staffordshire Police in an online child abuse investigation, the force has revealed.
The arrests are part of an unprecedented six-month national operation targeting people accessing indecent images of children online.
It was coordinated by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and netted 660 suspects across the UK.
The operation stayed covert until this week in order to protect children, identify offenders and secure evidence. Staffordshire Police, the NCA and its partners are not revealing the methods they used to track down suspects so that they can use the same tactics again in the future.
Detective Chief Inspector Dave Giles, of Staffordshire Police's Child Exploitation Team, said: “This operation should be a warning to offenders - the internet is not a safe anonymous space for assessing indecent images, you will leave a digital footprint, and we will find it and you.
"We are committed to tracking and bringing to justice those involved in the possession and distribution of indecent abuse images of children.”
He said the men arrested ranged in age from 19 to 65. They are all on bail pending further inquiries.
"It's our job to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and we have been working closely with the NCA as part of our work in this area,” Chief Inspector Giles said.
"This area of policing requires specially trained and dedicated resources with the ability to forensically examine technical evidence, such as computers. This examination seeks to identify victims to safeguard them from further abuse and includes an assessment of the extent of the offending behaviour.
"Throughout these investigations we work closely with partner agencies to ensure safeguarding measures are put in place to protect anyone at risk and encourage the suspect to seek help to address their behaviour.”
As well as the three men arrested in the Stafford local policing team area, two were arrested in the Staffordhire Moorlands, three in East Staffordshire, three in Stoke, four in Cannock Chase, three in Newcastle-under-Lyme and one in South Staffordshire.