A NEW Cyber and Digital Crime Unit has been launched to allow Cumbria Police to deal with growing numbers of online offending.

Additional specialist services have been invested by both the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, plus Cumbria Police to deter digital criminals, and help the victims they target.

The new department, which is based at the Constabulary headquarters in Penrith, was formally opened on Monday by Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall and DI Ian Harwood, who leads the unit.

Newly recruited staff and officers, who are experts in their field, have started at the division.

The unit aims to deliver improved ways to investigate and pursue offenders, and help businesses and people to protect themselves from an online attack.

Crimes tackled by the unit include online sex crimes such as sharing, viewing and downloading indecent images, including where there is child sexual abuse.

It covers offences such as digital fraud, hacking and online exploitation - some which can lead to long investigations.

Digital devices are taken apart and forensically examined by the unit.

Offenders often do not live in county boundaries, also posing a new challenge to police.

With changes in society and technology, the number of these types of crimes continue to grow – with the unit placed to deal with an increasing problem.

National referrals of this type of crime have risen in the past five years and are often passed to local forces. - with more than 50 sent to Cumbria Police to investigate since January.

Within the last year, criminals carrying out cyber-enabled or cyber-dependent crimes have received prison sentences totalling more than 60 years after work by county officers.

Detective Inspector Ian Harwood said: “We’re delighted to show the public what their council tax is paying for – an improved service to protect anybody who uses a digital device.

“In this day and age, that includes most of us. If you shop online, use social media or email to communicate, you could fall victim to an online criminal if you don’t take care.

“We work hard together with our partners to highlight the threat and to prevent people from falling victim.

“We would urge people to be vigilant of all the threats that exist online and to protect themselves as best they can.”

Peter McCall, Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, added: “The digital world is a dangerous, world and modern threats and risks of online criminals, as they hide behind their screens, faceless and anonymous, has significantly increased.

“Offences such as internet fraud, online grooming, cyber stalking and child sexual exploitation, where criminals focus on the most vulnerable as an easy target, are happening here in Cumbria.”