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Cheshire's expanded child abuse team makes multiple arrests

Force has expanded OCAIT unit from 10 detectives to 46

A revamped child abuse investigation unit has made a series of arrests after a month-long operation.

Cheshire’s new-look OCAIT (Online Child Abuse Investigation Team), led the activity throughout April with 40 addresses visited and 28 people arrested for indecent and abusive images of children online.

The majority have either been bailed or released under investigation while seized devices are examined and the investigations continue.

A total of 24 children who had a connection or were related to the suspects have been safeguarded by partner agencies as part of the operation.

It follows the force’s decision to expand its specialist team of officers and staff, more than quadrupling in size from a team of 10 detectives and staff, up to a much larger unit of 46.

The move was in response to the 400% increase in people viewing indecent images of children online during lockdown.

Detective Chief Inspector Gavin Day, who oversees the OCAIT, said: “Where other areas of the Constabulary got quieter as they saw a decrease in offending, we got a lot busier. That’s also partly been due to social media companies getting better at picking up on these types of offences and identifying offenders, and then bringing them to our attention.

He added: “Because our team has been so small, it’s not really been possible for us to match this surge and take the action that we need to. That’s why this month has been so positive for us as now we have the resources to get out there.”

The force is working with the Lucy Faithful Foundation, a UK-wide child protection charity which is working to reduce online harm.

Donald Findlater, Director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “Mostly, the tens of thousands of people in the UK viewing sexual images of children online don’t conform to the stereotypes – they are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.

 “Everyone needs to know that looking at sexual images and videos of under 18s is illegal; that children are harmed by it; that serious consequences await those involved in it.”

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