SIX men have been arrested in the Cleveland force area in just four days after a Europe-wide crackdown on child abuse and grooming.

The arrests are in connection with the possession of indecent images of children, and in one instance a man was also arrested on suspicion of grooming offences.

The men, aged between 25 and 75, were from the Middlesbrough, Billingham, Redcar and Yarm areas.

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They have all been released under investigation while inquiries continue.

Twenty five children were safeguarded as a result of the warrants.

Cleveland Police joined UK and European forces in the National Crime Agency-led operation tackling child exploitation and abuse.

The operation focused particularly on internet-based offending such as viewing indecent images of children, live streaming of abuse, and grooming.

POLIT (Paedophile Online Investigation Team) officers executed eight warrants under Section 4 of the Protection of Children Act at addresses across the force area in late October/early November.

During the warrants POLIT officers made full use of the team’s recent acquisition – a van equipped to carry out initial checks of devices found at a suspect’s address.

The computer equipment on board the van means digital forensic teams could look at each piece of equipment as it was confiscated from an address and quickly establish if it contained any inappropriate material.

They could then check whether the equipment should be seized for further examination, or returned.

This speeds up the otherwise lengthy process of analysing devices for inappropriate and criminal material such as indecent images and evidence of online grooming.

Officers from the Sex Offender Management Unit also visited over 30 high-risk registered sex offenders during the week to ensure no further offences were being committed.

And Cleveland Police’s enforcement phase of the activity was supported by an education phase where officers provided online safety talks and activities in schools. Pupils, teachers and parents were also given information on specialist organisations which offer online safety advice.

Detective Chief Supt Jon Green, Cleveland Police’s Head of Crime said: “Tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse is a priority for the force and our POLIT officers work tirelessly day in and day out to identify people who are using the internet to groom or abuse children or to look at - or distribute - indecent images of children.

“It was important we took part in the operation to reinforce how international commitment and cooperation can tackle these issues and bring offenders to justice.

“Our enforcement work was complemented by educational input by our School Liaison Officers who led additional internet safety sessions in schools.”

POLIT Inspector Steve Bell added: “Cleveland Police takes such crimes extremely seriously and we are absolutely committed to bringing offenders to justice. We are identifying and pursuing more offenders than ever and this will undoubtedly continue - as will our efforts to protect and safeguard vulnerable children and young people.

“These offenders do not recognise Force or national boundaries - and neither do our investigations. This international ‘show of strength’ clearly demonstrates law enforcement agencies’ determination to continue to work together to protect children and young people from harm.”

To find out how to keep children safe online visit www.nspcc.org.uk/preven…/keeping-children-safe/online-safety or www.getsafeonline.org/safeguarding-children or www.thinkyouknow.co.uk/parents