The largest internet paedophile ring yet uncovered has been broken up by international police, led by investigators from the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk)
70,000 people were members of the abuse network at its height,which led to 4,000 intelligence reports sent to police in 30 countries.
670 suspect have been identified and detectives said 184 people have been arrested so far, 121 of them in the UK. In this country the 240 suspects included police officers, teachers, youth leaders and a woman. 33 have already been convicted, including scout leader from Plymouth, John McMurdo.
Called Operation Rescue, the three-year investigation has also identified 230 abused children, and some 60 of them have been protected in the UK.
During a press conference at The Hague, in the Netherlands, investigators said although the network was hidden behind a legal online forum that operated out of the Netherlands, its members came from around the world. Suspects have also been identified in Australia, Italy, Canada and Thailand.
Investigators also explained that the members of the network went into a private channel on the internet forum and then shared their films and images of abused children.
But the network had already been infiltrated by child abuse investigators, posing as paedophiles in order to gather intelligence.
‘One single objective’
As part of the operation’s successes, two known British sex offenders were tracked down and found in Spain.
In Australia the police have executed 51 search warrants and some of the 31 suspects arrested are thought to have held senior positions in the conspiracy.
Peter Davies, head of Ceop, said: “The scale and success of Operation Rescue has broken new ground.
“Not only is it one of the largest operation of its kind to date – and the biggest operation we have led – it also demonstrates the impact of international law enforcement agencies working together with one single objective – to safeguard children and bring offenders to justice.
“While these offenders felt anonymous in some way because they were using the internet to communicate, the technology was actually being used against them.
“Everything they did online, everyone they talked to or anything they shared could and was tracked by following the digital footprint.”
Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, said: “I am proud of the exceptional work of our experts in helping police authorities around the world to record these groundbreaking results.”