Computer sex ring traced to university: Police seize child pornography

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The Independent Online
A CHILD computer pornography ring, thought to be the largest in the world, has been traced to Birmingham University by US law enforcement agencies.

A 25-year-old researcher was last night helping West Midlands police with inquiries. A spokesman said a file would be submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service seeking guidance on whether an arrestable offence was involved. Last month, the Government refused to close a legal loophole that allows hard-core computer pornography to be channelled into Britain by telephone. The decision came after a court case in which a 13-year-old boy attempted to rape a girl of six after watching computer sex.

West Midlands police confirmed yesterday that they were interviewing the researcher in connection with a flood of pornography on the world-wide Interlink computer network, which is used by governments, businesses and academic institutions. About 20 million people in 160 countries have access to the equipment.

The researcher was taken to a police station after a house in the Moseley area of the city was raided by officers from the West Midlands and Metropolitan forces under Section 4 of the Protection of Children Act 1978. A spokesman said: 'Acting on evidence received from the US, officers seized computer devices which contained substantial amounts of pornographic material including material depicting children in obscene acts.' The material is said to feature children as young as two.

The researcher has admitted having some 'knowledge and control of the system and publishing the material worldwide'.

Detective Chief Inspector Keith Bassett, of West Midlands police, said: 'There are literally thousands of pictures. It is pretty dreadful stuff. The pictures are colour and have been taken with cameras and then scanned on to computer disks to be transmitted.'

It is an offence to import hard pornography into Britain in any tangible form, including computer disks, but not if it is received over telephone lines. It is, however, illegal to transmit pornographic images between computers in Britain. But this is a relatively untested law and there is ample evidence of hard-core pictures making their way into computers owned by children as much as by adults.

Police say the task of enforcement is further complicated by the fact that they can be prosecuted for accessing a program that has a notice forbidding 'law enforcement officers to enter the system'.

Calls for tighter legislation followed a report by the home affairs select committee in February that highlighted developments in the technology and market for hard-core pornography on computers.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has pledged to increase police powers but enforcement remains difficult. This month a computer pornographer was jailed for five months for running a 'bulletin board' that included scenes of group sex and mutilation using CD-ROM technology that gives high quality visual results. BT supplied the 0898 telephone lines for the service.

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