A Yorkshire police force says its dedicated cyber-crime unit has helped convict seven paedophiles since it was set up less than a year ago.
The North Yorkshire Police Cybercrime unit, made up of three Detective Constables, was launched to tackle the growing threat posed by criminal using the internet and technology.
Since its launch ten months ago, it has been involved in the arrests of more than 30 suspected paedophiles in the county, for offences relating to the sharing of indecent images of children.
Seven men from Harrogate, Skipton and York have been convicted, with three receiving prison sentences. They are not thought to be part of a larger paedophile ring, according to police.
The unit has also carried out investigations into “black hat” hackers, who use their extensive computer knowledge to breach or bypass internet security.
Two men have been arrested for offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, with one 19-year-old man from Tadcaster receiving a caution and another man, 19, from York, on bail pending further enquiries.
According to the force, the unit’s officers can examine computers and phones at crime scenes, meaning investigators have a better idea of the indecent material on them and can prioritise which items are sent for full forensic tests.
The officers can also capture ‘volatile data’ such as passwords and live programmes running on computers, which would normally be lost when the devices are switched off or powered down.
Detective Chief Inspector Matt Walker, Head of Cybercrime at North Yorkshire Police, said: “It is this type of pro-active work that is so vital.
“In addition to the already incredible work of our officers to relentlessly catch those who break the law and threaten to harm others, the Cybercrime Unit is a crucial dedicated resource.
“Cybercrime is a real ever increasing threat here in North Yorkshire, and it needs a focussed team of specialist trained officers to assist frontline investigating officers and staff, carry out complex cyber investigations, and be the NYP link with the Regional Cybercrime Unit and other external bodies such as Action Fraud.
“The work of the Cybercrime Unit also plays an important role in allowing NYP to be more efficient and effective in preventing and investigating crime.
“The unit works with other departments across the force to speed up processes and ‘fast-track’ the capturing of evidence. This can reduce investigation time, meaning swifter justice for victims.
“The team also carry out crucial preventative work such as giving presentations to local community groups and businesses, with an aim to raise awareness and prevent people falling foul of current cybercrime scams.”
West Yorkshire Police has also set up a cybercrime unit, based in Carr Gate, Wakefield, which will provide support to other criminal investigations by using specialist technology and computer software.
A watchdog said in December that in 2013, 36 million adults in Great Britain accessed the internet every day, 20 million more than in 2006 when directly comparable records began. Only a small fraction of the millions of offences carried out using computers or the internet are reported to police.
It said every police officer “must be equipped to provide victims of digital crime with the help and support that they have a right to expect from those charged with the duty to protect them”.