Lincolnshire Police smashes an international peadophile network
Lincolnshire Police teamed up with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre to lead a global operation.
An international network distributing horrific images of child sexual abuse has been smashed by Lincolnshire Police and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. This has resulted in 132 children in the UK being protected and safeguarded* and a number of paedophiles being taken out of positions of trust, including teachers, doctors, youth workers and police officers.
Four men pleaded guilty to a number of charges relating to the distribution and possession of indecent images of children at Nottingham Crown Court. All were masterminds in running a UK-based ‘news service’ website offering more than 1,300 suspected paedophiles in 45 countries* access to millions of child abuse images.*
Two men, who operated their businesses between 2002 and 2009, distributed indecent images to countries in Europe, Asia, America and Africa*, from a tiny hamlet called Martin Dales in rural Lincolnshire. Along with their counterparts in Sheffield and St Albans, they used a massive array of computer equipment, including an industrial sized server with the storage capacity of 3.2 million floppy disks. The server seized by Lincolnshire Police was so large that when it was switched on to be forensically analysed, the electricity consumption was so great that it dimmed the lights in the building where it was being examined.
The defendants received a total benefit of £2.2m from running this subscription service used by thousands of customers, including paedophiles around the globe. The web based ‘news services’ operated by the offenders, including Athenanews.com, were businesses which charged users to access discussion folders, or ‘news groups’. Subscribers could access and post comments and pictures on a whole range of topics. Many users of the site were not engaged in illegal activity and need not fear police action. Beneath their seemingly innocent façade, these news services carried millions of indecent images of children, which were being distributed between servers in Britain, the USA and the rest of the world.
Lincolnshire led the investigation, codenamed Operation Alpine, after receiving intelligence from the CEOP Centre. It quickly developed into a joint operation that saw both organisations working closely together in managing a truly global response. Nearly all of the UK’s forces, from Strathclyde to Devon and Cornwall, were involved in the investigation. Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire Police all contributed direct operational support. Lincolnshire Police, along with CEOP, teamed up with Serious Organised Crime Agency and several international law enforcement agencies to bring the network down. The Crown Prosecution Service’s East Midlands Complex Casework Unit provided legal support throughout the enquiry.
The total number of items seized and examined during this four-year enquiry amounts to 2,182 exhibits. A total of 1.3 million e-mails have been analysed, many manually by detectives. The enquiry team have viewed and categorised 5.5 million images and nearly 6,000 movies. In the UK this has led to 211 suspects being located and more than 195 separate premises being searched to date.
Of those subscribers investigated in Britain so far, nearly two-thirds either admitted the possession of indecent images, or they were found upon initial analysis of the individual’s computers. For the remainder, investigations are either ongoing or in a relatively small proportion of cases, have been subject to no further action.
The vast majority of the UK suspects have not previously come to the attention of the police. As a result action has been taken to protect and safeguard 132 children in the UK alone*.
To date 55 offenders have been dealt with for the possession of indecent images of children by way of caution or court sentence, including imprisonment. Many other cases are still progressing through the courts or are being investigated by the police. All of these offenders will now have to sign the sex offenders’ register for up to 10 years.
The investigation into these suspects has led to the identification of a number of contact offences against children being discovered. In some cases, investigations into customers of the site revealed they were sexually abusing relatives or children known to them. One such case involved an ex-teacher in Lothian and Borders, who was convicted of possessing indecent images of children and as a result of the media coverage of the court case, past pupil’s volunteered information regarding being the victims of historical abuse. This led to an additional investigation and the conviction of this individual for indecently assaulting two children.
- Deputy Head of Cumbrian NHS Trust - Indecent Images of Children recovered. Pleaded guilty. Community sentence with sex offenders’ internet treatment programme. Banned from working with children for 10 years, Sex Offender Register for five years.
- Lincolnshire suspect - Arrested by Alpine detectives on an aircraft returning from the Philippines. Sentenced to six months imprisonment at Lincoln Crown Court.
- Devon and Cornwall scout leader and ex-school governor. - 26-week prison sentence.
- Humberside school crossing patrol worker - Sentenced to eight months imprisonment, five-year Sex Offences Prevention Order and requirement to sign the Sex Offender Register
* Notes to editors
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