Nine Britons arrested in child porn crackdown

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An investigation into paedophile activities on the internet found nearly 10,000 people logged on to bulletin boards containing 320,000 photographs of child sex abuse over a 16-day period.

An investigation into paedophile activities on the internet found nearly 10,000 people logged on to bulletin boards containing 320,000 photographs of child sex abuse over a 16-day period.

The huge scale of the problem was revealed yesterday during one of the largest international crackdowns on paedophiles. Police in 19 countries were issued with 130 arrest and search warrants as part of the inquiry co-ordinated by Britain's National Crime Squad (NCS).

Nine men were arrested in Britain during a series of raids in which computer equipment, videos and photographs were seized. Arrests were made in London, Hull, Devon and Wiltshire, and computer equipment was seized in Greater Manchester and Strathclyde.

Among the photographs discovered on the internet "newsgroups" – a type of cyber bulletin board – were pictures of baby boys being sexually assaulted. In another case a paedophile published a picture of a boy aged about four asking for advice about how to gain his trust so that he could abuse him.

The inquiry, codenamed Operation Landmark, is the latest attempt to target paedophiles who use the anonymity of the internet to swap details of victims and photographs of abuse.

Police complained yesterday about the ease with which sex offenders can hide their identities when using the internet and the willingness of e-mail and web companies to accept obviously falsified names and addresses.

During the 10-month investigation, the NCS identified 33 newsgroups that contained graphic images of child sex abuse as well as apparently innocent family photographs of children and young teenagers. Police monitoring the bulletin boards were shocked to discover that 9,800 different people logged on to them in 16 days. Because some of internet users may have accidentally come across the sites, only people who logged on 10 times or more were investigated, leaving a total of 2,800. Accessing the newsgroups is not an offence, only posting and downloading the paedophile images is illegal.

Officers concentrated on 400 individuals suspected of distributing paedophile images and discovered the names and addresses of 130 of the suspects, the majority of whom lived in the United States, Russia and the Netherlands.

The identities of some suspects were obtained when they downloaded photographs from the internet. This process reveals the user's online address, from which police are able to trace the suspect.

Detective Inspector Peter West, senior investigating officer in the case, said: "The problem with identifying the suspects is with the free internet service providers who have very lax security."

Detective Superintendent Peter Spindler, who was in overall charge for NCS, added: "[The internet] has changed dramatically the way paedophile information is exchanged. We are not talking about the dirty mac brigade any more, this is a much younger, technically proficient group, quite happy with using IT and getting access in their own homes to material which would have been almost impossible in the past."

Police forces throughout the world were given details of suspects at an Interpol meeting three weeks ago in the French city of Lyons. Warrants were executed in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United States.