SCORES of suspected paedophiles were caught last year by a specialist Regional Organised Crime Unit working in the West Midlands to snare sex offenders.
The team has been active on social media, instant messaging apps and other online platforms for more than a decade and in 2017 made the most number of arrests in its history.
A total of 83 men and two women were snared by under-the-radar cops in those 12 months.
Twenty-five have been convicted and collectively jailed for 68 years, while another 42 have been charged and are going through the court process.
Detective Inspector Stephen Wills from the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) heads the investigations arm of the covert team. He said: “Our unit has a 100 per cent conviction rate at court, such is the strength of the evidence we collate, and not a single suspect has opted for a court trial.
“Vigilante ‘paedophile hunter’ groups have emerged in recent times and there seems to be a perception that police are not doing this work − but that’s absolutely not the case. We’ve been active online, working alongside social media providers, and protecting children for many years and with great success.
“Also there is a danger that offenders are escaping punishment on legal technicalities because of the way these groups have operated.
“Our officers are looking for people who want to abuse and have sex with children in the West Midlands.”
Last year, the unit’s officers identified and protected 43 vulnerable youngsters − either victims or those at direct risk of harm − through intervention and enforcement activity.
It is estimated they have also safeguarded a further 4,000 children during the same 12-month period that suspects had access to either through school, sports clubs, family members or direct social media contact.
The unit’s capacity was increased last year following a national £20-million investment in ROCUs and means officers can now focus full-time on tackling CSE offenders operating online.
And new offences of grooming children online and getting sexual gratification by talking to children online means there is more scope for them to secure convictions against online predators.
Det Insp Wills, continued: “These an important offences as they recognise youngsters can be badly scarred by the experiences psychologically and emotionally − through online exchanges with these offenders − even if they have not been physically harmed.
“This crime type has a devastating effect on the lives of victims and a child’s safety is at the forefront of all operational and investigative activity.
“We want to create an environment of disruption, fear and apprehension amongst people who operate online to sexually abuse children.”