More than 500 potential victims of online child abuse identified and 77 charged after police investigation

Charges include rape, grooming, and sharing indecent images, of which 30 million were found

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The Independent Online

More than 500 potential victims of child abuse have been identified and 77 people have been charged following a major investigation into online sex abuse by Police Scotland.

The charges include rape, grooming of children for sexual purposes, and sharing indecent images, of which 30 million were found after 547 computers and other devices were seized.

The national investigation, called Operation Lattise, is the first of its kind to take place in Scotland and was carried out over five and a half weeks between 6 June and 15 July.

The operation involved 134 separate inquiries, and Police Scotland has said many of the investigations are still ongoing.

"Online child sexual abuse is a national threat," said Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham in a statement.

"The reality is it is happening now, not only in Scotland but across the world, to children of all ages, from infants to teenagers."

Some of the 523 children identified as victims or potential victims of abuse were as young as three years old, and 122 of them have been referred to child protection services.

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“Operation Lattise was about shining a light on the scale of this issue," said Mr Graham.

"It was focused activity to tackle the many forms of online child sexual abuse by identifying those who pose a risk to children online and, more importantly, identifying victims of online sexual abuse and exploitation, as well as preventing more youngsters becoming victims."

The police were able to use covert technology to identify potential paedophiles using websites, chatrooms and forums to contact children, and track their location, said Detective Inspector Andy McWilliam.

“These men – and it is predominantly men – are using the profiles of younger children to groom them and offend against them,” he told the BBC.

“Whether they throw the computer in the bath or not, we can find what they have looked at."

As part of the investigation, officers analysed more than 100,000 online chat logs. They found one suspect had been communicating inappropriately with more than 110 children and young people.

The number of reported sexual offences involving children is growing, according to Police Scotland, who have released figures showing grooming children for sexual offences had more than doubled in the last year.

In 2015-16, the police force recorded 50 incidents of grooming, up from 23 in 2014-15.

A report released last month by the children's charity the NSPCC revealed paedophiles in England are using the internet to commit an average of eight sex crimes a day and are targeting children as young as one.