Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Predators netted in online probe

Facebook logo refelcted in girl's eye
The force monitored sites like Facebook during the operation

More than 200 online predators and 150 child victims have been identified as part of an operation to uncover paedophile activity on the internet.

Central Scotland Police said it had collected 2,000 e-mail addresses and 4,000 chat logs from sites like MSN, Facebook and Bebo during the operation.

The operation led to arrests of men who targeted children as young as eight.

The force said the numbers represented the tip of the iceberg and urged parents to exercise greater control.

About 30 officers from Central Scotland Police were involved in Operation Defender over the summer.

Detectives were able to pinpoint predators by accessing the computers of children who had gone missing or whose parents had expressed concern about behaviour.

Throughout the investigation they monitored more than 4,000 sexually explicit chat logs between adults and children and identified more than 1,700 men.

Our actions have resulted in approximately 150 children who were both victims and potential victims being removed from harm's way
Ch Supt Gordon Mackenzie

They also found how paedophiles were able to induce vulnerable youngsters to meet them through social networking sites or engage with them on webcams.

The investigation led to arrests across the UK and abroad. Police said that included 15 men accused of crimes including rape, sexual assault and grooming against children as young as eight.

Ch Supt Gordon Mackenzie said that while children were "fearless and curious" about internet access, their parents tended to be "clueless" about their online activity.

He said: "What we have seen is young, unsuspecting children and teenagers using the internet in a variety of ways - through computers, phones or other platforms including games consoles and web connectivity - and being targeted by men who are effectively grooming and conditioning them for sexual purposes."

He added: "We have taken steps which have resulted in a number of individuals now facing prosecution.

"Our actions have also resulted in approximately 150 children who were both victims and potential victims being removed from harm's way.

"A number of youngsters who were at immediate risk were identified through our inquiries and swift intervention took place."

Help and advice

The news came as Bebo and the centre for Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) launched a 'Report button' which is automatically attached to every profile on the site.

The button will provide access to help and advice for those who have concerns about safety issues, including hacking and viruses.

The police operation follows a similar inquiry in 2008 into anti-social behaviour.

During last year's Operation Pincer, Central Scotland Police monitored chat rooms and sites, including Bebo, for crime-related postings and images.

More than 180 youngsters across Forth Valley were questioned as a result. The force said such sites could act as a conduit for criminal activity.

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