Monday 18 August 2008
UK police uncover global online paedophile network
Police today revealed that an international paedophile network has been infiltrated by law enforcement officers and dozens of suspects arrested.
The operation was run jointly by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, Cleveland Police and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).
The investigation involved the largest ever coordinated deployment of undercover officers in the UK within a child protection investigation.
The announcement came as a 27 year old Teesside man was sentenced to an indeterminate public protection sentence for his part in the network, which has so far identified over 360 suspects worldwide. More than 130 of these suspects are in the UK, resulting in over 50 arrests to date.
15 children have been safeguarded in the UK as a result of this ongoing investigation.
Philip Anthony Thompson, unemployed and from the Stockton-on-Tees area of Cleveland, was charged with 27 counts in total including causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity, taking indecent photographs of a child and making and distributing child abuse images. Approximately a quarter of a million child abuse images, still and moving and ranging from levels 1-5*, were discovered in Thompson’s possession.
The investigation began in May 2007 when the Metropolitan Police Paedophile Unit initiated an undercover operation into an internet forum. Users of the forum would post disturbing, ‘borderline-legal’ images of children and pass comments on the images. This tactic, of posting indicative images instead of more explicit child sex abuse images, was an attempt to keep the site ‘below the radar’ of law enforcement and prevent it being shut down. Having made contact through the forum, its users would meet other like-minded individuals and exchange images in different online environments.
Thompson was identified as a senior administrator within the site and found to be living in Teesside.
CEOP, which holds national responsibility for coordinating the deployment of covert investigators on the internet in child sexual abuse investigations, undertook responsibility for developing the operation on a national and international level.
Cleveland Police joined forces with CEOP and affected Thompson’s arrest and, once a copy of the server had been seized, officers were able to identify those accessing the site and undertake risk assessments, supported by the deployment of undercover internet investigators.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Department for Homeland Security in the US and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) took the lead within their jurisdictions as partners in the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT), an international alliance of law enforcement agencies working together to prevent and deter online child abuse. Suspect details were circulated internationally via Interpol, also a VGT partner.
Jim Gamble, QPM, Chief Executive of the CEOP Centre and Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead in the UK for Child Abuse Investigation and Countering Child Abuse on the Internet said:
“This investigation started as a result of intelligence provided by the Metropolitan Police and demonstrates that UK police collaborate effectively to protect children both in the UK and internationally. There was an outstanding contribution by Cleveland Police and many other UK forces who contributed covert officers to what has been the largest ever, nationally coordinated, online deployment in a child sexual abuse investigation. This website – whilst appearing to operate on the margins of legality - was clearly a front for the sinister, sexual abuse of children and an image trading ground for paedophiles.
“There is a simple message to those individuals, like Thompson, who think they can go to this website – or indeed, any space on the internet - and discuss their sexual interest in children and share images. You leave a digital footprint. We will track you down and hold you to account.”
Detective Chief Supt Mark Braithwaite is from Cleveland Police:
“Thompson was a critical piece of this network. He was, essentially, the librarian for a myriad of images that were distributed to like-minded individuals both in this country and elsewhere.
“This was an extremely sensitive and highly complex investigation, requiring excellent teamwork between Cleveland Police, the Child Exploitation Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and the Metropolitan Police Service along with other police forces in the UK.
“I hope this result acts as a deterrent and sends out a clear warning that activity such as this will not be tolerated”.
Detective Superintendent Sue Knight of the Metropolitan Police’s Child Abuse Investigation Command, said:
“This is an example of the work we continue to do on daily basis to identify paedophiles and protect children. Paedophiles need to be aware that they can’t hide their criminality behind pseudo legal internet forums.”
A 35 year old man was arrested on Thursday 14 August in Winnipeg, Canada and has been charged with offences in connection to this investigation.
Notes to editors
- The name and url of the website cannot be named for legal and operational reasons.
- This investigation refers to a tripartite operation with the CEOP Centre Operation Elm), Cleveland Police (Operation Montreal) and the Metropolitan Police.
- The Sentencing Advisory Guidelines classify child abuse images into five different levels: -
- Level 1: Images depicting erotic posing with no sexual activity
- Level 2: Non-penetrative sexual activity between children, or solo masturbation by a child
- Level 3: Non-penetrative sexual activity between adults and children
- Level 4: Penetrative sexual activity involving a child or children, or both children and adults
- Level 5: Sadism or penetration of, or by, an animal
- CHILD ABUSE IMAGES, NOT ‘CHILD PORNOGRAPHY’. Use of the phrase ‘child pornography’ actually benefits child sex abusers:
- It indicates legitimacy and compliance on the part of the victim and therefore legality on the part of the abuser
- It conjures up images of children posing in ‘provocative’ positions, rather than suffering horrific abuse
- The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre works in both the online and offline environments to protect children from sexual exploitation. Full information on all areas of work as well as online safety messages and access to online reporting can be found at www.ceop.gov.uk.
- The organisation is affiliated to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and powers are derived from the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. It is based in Pimlico, London with developing outreach channels to all areas of both domestic and international policing as well as industry and specialist support and educational faculties.
- For further information please contact:
- Miriam Rich, Vicky Gillings, Hannah Bickers or Clive Michel at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre on 0870 000 3434
- Press Office at Cleveland Police on 01642 301244.
- Ashley Lovell at the Metropolitan Police Service on 020 7230 3472
- Australian Federal Police +61 2 6275 7100
- Peter Nikic, Royal Canadian Mounted Police +01 613 993-9579
- Pat Reilly, US Department of Homeland Security +01 202 514-2648