Three men were jailed today after they admitted running an international paedophile ring that distributed millions of indecent images and films of children to over 40 countries around the world.
In the first case of its kind in England and Wales, Ian Frost, 35, and his partner Paul Rowland, 34 and Frost's brother Paul, 37, pleaded guilty to various charges of making, distributing and possessing indecent images of children.
Lincolnshire Police said smashing the ring had 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.
The group had been involved in the running of illegal uncensored news groups on the internet in order to circulate the images and movies to 46 countries across the globe, Lincolnshire Police said.
Paul and Ian Frost, along with 32-year-old Ian Sambridge, all pleaded guilty to distributing indecent images of children while Rowland entered guilty pleas to distributing, making and possessing indecent images of children.
Sentencing them at Nottingham Crown Court today Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said the case was the first of its kind in England and Wales because it was prosecuting individuals for distribution through news servers.
He said he believed that each defendant had knowledge of the fact that indecent images of children were available on the service but chose not to remove them for financial gain.
He also commended the complex investigation by police and law enforcement agencies and described it as "painstaking and groundbreaking".
Mr Justice Calvert-Smith jailed Ian Frost and Rowland for 33 months.
He described Frost as the "leading light who devised the scheme and was the main beneficiary."
Rowland, who stared at the floor as the judge spoke to him, was also ordered to undergo a sex offenders course as well as be subject to a sexual offences prevention order.
Paul Frost was jailed for 15 months while Sambridge was given a 12 month sentence suspended for two years.
The judge told them: "It is astonishing that four such people, well-educated, should choose to embark on the course that they did.
"It's equally astonishing that in the seven-year investigation hardly a word of regret has fallen from the lips of any defendant for the victims depicted in their news groups."
Detective Superintendent Paul Gibson, of Lincolnshire Police, said officers first received intelligence from German Federal Police in November 2005 that Ian Frost, who became civil partners with Rowland in 2009, was running a news service that had an association with indecent images of children.
Lincolnshire Police led the investigation, codenamed Operation Alpine, after receiving the intelligence via the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).
Officers executed a search warrant at Frost's home in 2006 in the small hamlet of Martin Dales in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, which he shared with Rowland.
Police found a piece of equipment that Det Supt Gibson called a "raid array" - a redundant array of independent disks - which is made up of a number of hard drives wired together.
This was so large, he said, that when investigating officers plugged it in the lights in the room dimmed, giving them an idea of the amount of power it needed to operate.
It also had a memory capacity of 4.5 terabytes, equivalent to 3.2 million floppy disks.
Officers found the raid array had been operating an uncensored news service in Manhattan, New York, in 2005 before moving to the location in Lincolnshire.
Det Supt Gibson said illegal news services, which are legal if censored, were "unique" because they operate like a virtual noticeboard containing folders of particular interest that can be shared around the world because linked news servers talk to one another and share information.
IT workers Ian Frost and Rowland, he said, were running a news service called Athenanews which allowed users to pay a fee depending on the amount of download they required, upon which they were issued with a username and password, and could then search for desired content.
In screengrabs from Athenanews, officers showed how folders labelled "teens", "baby", "boys", could be accessed and downloaded.
The extent of the images and films uncovered by officers ranged from the lowest level of indecent images of children to the most extreme, Det Supt Gibson said.
Officers also found other news services were being run by Paul Frost, also an IT worker, from Woodhouse in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.
Sambridge, a legal adviser, was running another news service from a location in St Albans, Hertfordshire.
Mr Justice Calvert-Smith told the court today: "It seems that never once did the defendants pause to reflect that they were contributing significantly to the international market and to the abuse of children, and even if that did not concern them they did not consider that they were at risk of criminal prosecution."
The criminality spanned around seven years and netted the group around £2.2 million, even though they did not appear to have extravagant lifestyles.
All four were arrested in April 2009 before being interviewed and charged in June 2010.
Officers found that 1,310 individual packages had been sent to 46 countries around the world by the news servers.
Of those receiving the illegal content involving indecent images of children, there were 211 in the UK, 38 have been dealt with to date.
The largest number of subscribers were based in the US, Det Supt Gibson said.
He also said that the total number of items seized and examined during the four-year inquiry amounts to 2,182 exhibits.
He added: "A total of 1.3 million e-mails have been analysed, many manually by detectives. The inquiry team have viewed and categorised 5.5 million images and nearly 6,000 movies."
As a result, 200 people have arrested in the UK, and 132 children in the UK safeguarded. Of that number, 94 individual children have been protected, many of whom have close relationships with offenders.
This means that they have been the subjects of statutory Child Protection processes involving police and/or children's services. To date, there have been over 50 convictions or cautions as a result of the investigation.
Speaking outside court Det Supt Gibson said he was happy with the sentences.
He said: "In terms of the sentences handed down today we're really pleased - myself, the inquiry team and Ceop - that we've managed to achieve the results we've got today."
When asked if he thought the sentences were lenient given the length of scale of the investigation, he said: "I think the really important point is that custodial sentences have been handed down by the judge and the judge's decision is something for his discretion and something we fully support.
"I think the really important message to send is that the distribution of indecent images of children will not be tolerated and internet service providers who do this in the future, or anybody else, will receive a custodial sentence."