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Police in Scotland found 30m vile images during an investigation into child abuseGetty Images

Dozens of suspected paedophiles and more than 500 potential child sex victims have been identified in an investigation into online abuse by police in Scotland. Over a six week period between June and July, Police Scotland found more than 500 children, aged between 3 and 18 years, who were either victims or potential victims of online predators.

They also recovered 30m sickening images of abuse during the operation, which was codenamed LATTISE, drawing together resources from across Police Scotland, including prevention, investigation, local policing and specialist teams.

As a result 77 people were arrested and charged. Pouring over 100,000 chat logs police were able to libel 390 charges including: rape; sharing indecent images of children; grooming for sexual purposes; sexual extortion; indecent communication with children; possession of a firearm; bestiality; and drugs offences.

Five key areas of online child sexual abuse were looked at by detectives: distribution, sharing and possession of images depicting child sexual abuse; online grooming of children for sexual purposes, including child sexual exploitation; online or webcam sexual extortion of children; live streaming of child sexual abuse and international/ specialist investigations.

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable (Major Crime and Public Protection), Malcolm Graham, said: "Online child sexual abuse is a national threat – the reality is it is happening now, not only in Scotland but across the world, to children of all ages, from infants to teenagers.

"Operation LATTISE was about shining a light on the scale of this issue – 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.

MSP Mark McDonald, early years minister said children and young people should be free to enjoy the internet. Children and young people should be able to enjoy and learn from the internet, but we also want them to stay in control and know what to do and who to go to if they feel at risk," he said.

"Keeping children safe is a priority for both Police Scotland and the Scottish Government, so although there are many positive aspects to the online world I recognise there are also risks we have to be aware of."

Joanna Barrett, from the NSPCC , said there was a 60% increase last year of indecent communications offences carried out by adults against children aged under 13. "We are increasingly concerned about the harm caused to children through online activity," she added. "Too many children are exposed to dangerous and harmful content through the internet, or are subjected to online harassment, grooming, and sexual exploitation."