Police make 27 arrests in raids on alleged internet paedophiles

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The Independent Online

Dozens of suspected paedophiles, including a retired teacher and a care worker, were arrested yesterday in one of the largest police operations against child pornography on the internet.

Dozens of suspected paedophiles, including a retired teacher and a care worker, were arrested yesterday in one of the largest police operations against child pornography on the internet.

Raids were carried out at 75 addresses in 34 police force areas throughout the United Kingdom. At least 27 people were arrested and detectives seized computers containing thousands of photographs of children being abused.

The investigation, codenamed Operation Magenta, focused on 44 suspected paedophiles who used internet chatrooms to advertise and exchange images of children being abused. Police used specially developed software to track web users who requested the pornography.

Detective Inspector Terry Jones of Greater Manchester Police, said the operation was set up after an investigation 18 months ago. He said: "We can detect [paedophiles who use the internet] and recover images they have accessed – but we are really doing it to explore their lives and see if they are doing it to real kids.

"These are people who have gone to specific labelled areas of the internet such as 'pre-teen' and 'child rape', and then actively said 'I've got indecent images of kids' or 'I want to get some pictures'."

Studies in America show that nearly 40 per cent of people who download child pornography will go on to commit acts of physical abuse against children.

Detective Inspector Keith Tilley, of Hertfordshire Constabulary, said the investigation 18 months ago led police to search the house of a man who was abusing his 11-year-old daughter. "He did admit that the internet started him on that path, so there's a clear danger from the Web," Det Insp Tilley said.

Giving details of yesterday's raids, Det Insp Tilley said: "[Officers] are looking for computers in those premises. But what we are also mindful of is that potentially there could be a child at risk of abuse. We will not be leaving those premises until we are satisfied those children are safe."

The operation was the culmination of a six-month investigation led jointly by officers from Hertfordshire and Greater Manchester. Those arrested included IT consultants, a civil servant, a photographer and students. The youngest suspect was 15 and the oldest was 59. More arrests are anticipated after computer hard drives are examined. Some business addresses were among the 75 searched by police, and inquiries are under way to establish who was using particular terminals at certain times.

The maximum sentence for downloading child pornography is 10 years in prison.

Operation Magenta was set up after police were approached by a Cheshire software company, SurfControl, which specialises in filtering information on the internet, and had developed a way of tracking users.

Steve Purdham, chief executive, said: "What a lot of paedophiles believe is that they can hide behind the internet, sitting in their dark bedrooms. What we have shown is that it's possible to track people down. We've only scratched the surface so far."