No evidence against man in child porn inquiry who 'killed himself'

The Navy suspended Commodore David White, commander of British forces in Gibraltar, after police placed him under investigation over allegations that he bought pornographic images from a website in the US. Within 24 hours he was found dead at the bottom of the swimming pool at his home in Mount Barbary.

The inquest into his death heard that computer equipment and a camera memory chip belonging to Commodore White had yielded no evidence that he downloaded child pornography, and a letter was written by Ministry of Defence police to Naval Command on 5 January this year indicating that there were "no substantive criminal offences" to warrant pressing charges. But the Second Sea Lord, Sir James Burnell-Nugent, feared that the media would report the case and on 7 January removed him from his post anyway.

Despite accepting the news in a "steady fashion", the commodore was dead the next day. His brother Rupert told the inquest that the news of his removal had caused his "mental collapse", and that he was in "a state of catatonic shock".

The head of the Royal Navy, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West, expressed his "deep regret" over Commodore White's death yesterday, after the inquest recorded an open verdict.

The coroner, Charles Pitto, said there was insufficient evidence to conclude whether the commodore's death was accidental or suicide. If it was suicide, it would have taken to 34 the total number of people who have killed themselves after being identified as suspects by Operation Ore, Britain's biggest child-sex probe. The nationwide police investigation was launched three years ago after a list of 7,200 British suspects was handed to British police by US authorities. The men on the list are accused of using credit cards to pay for child porn through Landslide, a sex website that operated in Texas from 1996-99.

The results have seemed impressive. Nearly 4,000 people have been arrested, some 1,600 have been charged and 1,200 convicted. But the operation has placed some apparently innocent individuals under suspicion. In one case at Hull Crown Court last year, a distinguished hospital consultant was acquitted after it emerged that hackers had used his credit card on Landslide. The judge dismissed some police evidence as "utter nonsense".

Robert Del Naja, frontman of the group Massive Attack, was also wrongly accused of downloading child pornography. His arrest in 2003 was leaked to the media, but the case was dropped. The Who guitarist Pete Townshend, the most high-profile name to emerge so far from the Ore list, was not charged because he had not downloaded any pictures, and said he had been doing research for a book about child abuse.

The inquest heard Commodore White had reached the peak of his military career. During the 1990s he was on the military staff at Nato HQ in Brussels and was promoted to Captain in 1997, when he became the assistant director for naval operations during the Kosovo conflict. In 2001, he was appointed captain of the Second Submarine Squadron, and was in charge of Trafalgar class submarines. He never married, but was seen as very sociable.

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