ALMOST 50 suspected paedophiles have been arrested in the region during a six-month crackdown on perverts accessing child abuse images online.

The arrests were made after officers - acting on tip-offs from the National Crime Agency (NCA) - raided scores of homes across the North-East and North Yorkshire.

Action was taken to safeguard more than a dozen children following the operation.

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Cleveland Police arrested 12 people after executing 11 warrants.

Ninety three hard drives and 41 mobile phones were recovered during the raids.

Officers worked with social services to ensure 16 children were safeguarded, including five children who were moved to different addresses.

North Yorkshire Police arrested 11 people, including one who was linked to an existing investigation.

One person was arrested in Richmondshire and one in Hambleton, while six were arrested in Scarborough and York.

All those arrested were male, white north European and aged between 14 and 70.

Detectives revealed that several men were married and some had children of their own.

Those children are now subject to child safeguarding arrangements with partner agencies, the force said.

A further five arrests were made in County Durham and Darlington, while Northumbria Police made 19 arrests after executing 14 search warrants.

Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Mason, head of crime and justice at North Yorkshire Police, said: “This operation targeted suspected paedophiles accessing child abuse images online.

"Those responsible for such offending believed they were operating in an environment that was safe for them and would go undetected. The message is a simple one - no such place exists."

Detective Superintendent Rob Donaghy, from Cleveland Police, said the number of offenders accessing child abuse images on-line was increasing.

He added: "Officers continually develop their expertise in identifying offenders and, using best practice from experts around the world, we are able to carry out full forensic examination of devices such as laptops, desktop computers and tablets."

Nationally, the NCA co-ordinated operation led to the arrest of 660 suspected paedophiles and more than 400 children being safeguarded.

Some of those arrested had unsupervised access to children in the course of their work and included doctors, teachers, scout leaders, care workers and former police officers.

Of the 660, 39 people were registered sex offenders but the majority of those arrested had not previously come to the attention of the police.

The operation has remained covert until this week in order to protect children, identify offenders and secure evidence.

Decisions on whether to charge the suspects have not yet been made in most cases, but charges already brought range from possessing indecent images of children to serious sexual assault.