Acting on this intelligence, police confirmed yesterday 11 suspects had been arrested, all of whom are currently on police bail while further investigations take place.

“This is the first time we have been able to speak about the operation publicly because our priority has been to protect children, identify offenders and secure evidence,” explained Detective Superintendent Steve Cullen, head of the Protecting Vulnerable People department at Warwickshire and West Mercia Police.

The majority of the suspects were not previously known to the police.

“They are now, and they will stay in our sights,” warned DS Cullen. “Child abusers need to know that the internet is not a safe space for them to operate. They leave a digital footprint and we will find it.”

Many of them had some form of access to children.

Thirty-one children in the Warwickshire and West Mercia areas have been protected from harm and in in total, more than 400 children across the UK have required protecting.

“We have been able to identify victims and ensure they get the proper support and care,” said DS Cullen.

“Children are victimised not only when they are abused and an image is first taken. They are victimised repeatedly every time that image is viewed.”

‘Protecting’ has a very specific definition in England and Wales. It is linked to an investigation carried out jointly by the police and Children’s Services when there is cause to suspect a child is suffering, or is at risk of suffering, significant harm.

Urging people to report suspected child abuse to the police, DS Cullen said: “We still have a lot of work to do to assess what offences have been committed and, where we have sufficient evidence, to charge those we have arrested.”

During this operation the National Crime Agency targeted offenders accessing child abuse images online.

However police are also working with the Worcestershire-based Lucy Faithfull Foundation, who are trying to prevent sexual abuse online.

Their helpline is receiving an increasing number of calls from men concerned about their online behaviour.

“Thousands” of men have called about their possession of indecent images of children, and thousands of women have called concerned about their partner’s behaviour towards children.

The Stop it Now! helpline provides support for those who have offended online to take responsibility for their abusive behaviour, and manage the future risk.

“Not only do children continue to be harmed by this inappropriate use of their images, but also the offender risks losing friends, family, job, reputation and more should their offending come to light,” said Donald Findlater, from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. Call 0808 1000 900 for confidential help.

If you have concerns about a child or young person, or if you are a child or young person and someone has asked you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, either on or offline, please call the non-emergency police number, 101. You can also report it online at www.ceop.police.uk