EIGHT people have been arrested in Dorset as part of a national operation targeting sex offenders.

The force joined up with the National Crime Agency and the Association of Chief Police Officers for the national six-month operation with 45 forces, including Dorset Police, taking part.

Six hundred and sixty suspected paedophiles have been arrested across Britain. They include workers who had access to children through their jobs and had no previous contact with police.

Eight men have been arrested by detectives in Dorset following the receipt of information from the NCA.

Three have been charged and five are currently on police bail pending further enquiries.

One of those, Ian Bell, 66, a retired teacher from Wimborne, was charged with 20 offences of making and distributing indecent images of children.

He was sentenced to 28 months in prison.

Nationally, the operation has so far led to 431 children safeguarded and more than 600 people arrested.

The offences range from accessing indecent images of children to serious sexual assault.

None of those arrested is a serving or former MP or member of the Government.

The NCA said suspects include doctors, teachers, Scout leaders, care workers and former police officers. In total, only 39 registered sex offenders are among those arrested.

Detective Inspector Pete Little, of the Public Protection Unit, said: “The aim of this operation was to protect children who are victims of, or might be at risk of sexual exploitation.

“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.

“We know that some of the people who start by accessing indecent images online go on to abuse children directly.”

He added: “This has not only been about catching people who have already offended – it is also about influencing potential abusers before they cross that horrific line.

“Offenders need to know that the internet is not a safe anonymous space for accessing indecent images. They leave a digital footprint and we will find it.”

Officers across the UK have searched 833 properties and examined 9,172 computers, phones and hard drives.

Dorset Police are also urging people using the internet to access indecent images of children to get professional help.

There is support in place through organisations such as www.stopitnow.org.uk of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and GPs who can help.

The Paedophile Online Investigation Team can be contacted on 101. In an emergency, always dial 999.