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Record number of children rescued from abuse

A record number of children have been rescued from paedophiles prowling the internet for the fifth consecutive year, a specialist police unit said today.

More than 1,000 children have been safeguarded or protected, including 414 in the last 12 months alone, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (Ceop) said.

It comes as the agency's figures show it has dismantled more than 394 high-risk sex offender networks since it was set up in 2006 tasked with tracking online paedophiles and bringing them to court.

Of these, a record 132 networks have been dismantled in the last year as the unit's actions also led to a record 513 arrests, taking the total number of suspected paedophiles it has helped arrest in the last five years to 1,644.

But Peter Davies, Ceop's chief executive, warned the battle was far from over.

"Crimes against children are for me the most horrendous crimes and too many times the victim suffers in silence," he said.

"We need to encourage ever more reporting and understanding, we need to work to prevent the crime happening in the first place and we need to pursue the offender no matter how complex the methods they use to hide their activity."

Ceop, which is currently affiliated to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), will be merged with the new National Crime Agency when it is formed in 2013.

The move prompted the resignation of its former head Jim Gamble over concerns the shake-up was driven not by child protection but by a desire to cut the number of quangos.

But, as well as retaining its own budget, Mr Davies said the unit will also keep "its own brand, its own approach and its own dedication to putting the safety and well-being of children first".

"I think today's figures show that we are shining light in to those dark places, we are bringing this crime more into the open and are working collectively with many others to break down the taboos and obstacles that stop children getting the help and support they need," he said.

"We can do that with confidence."

In her foreword to the report, Home Secretary Theresa May added that the move will enable Ceop to "draw on wider resources and support to help keep even more children safe from harm in the future".

The unit's annual review also sets out plans to "address the self-generated risk that children place themselves in, understanding and working in partnership to safeguard technological advances and focusing on specialist areas such as the trafficking of children and young people", a Ceop spokesman said.