Seven held in UK after Germans break global child-porn network

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Seven people were arrested in Britain after one of the largest international operations against internet paedophiles.

Seven people were arrested in Britain after one of the largest international operations against internet paedophiles.

They were held following tip-offs from German police who have cracked one of the biggest global child pornography networks involving 26,500 internet users in 166 countries.

Three victims featured in child pornography images uncovered by the British investigation have been identified.

The UK arrests followed a German operation codenamed Marcy involving 1,500 police, in which 502 premises were raided across Germany this week. Officers seized 745 computers, at least 35,500 CDs, 8,300 diskettes and 5,800 videos. "One of the biggest internationally active networks has been smashed," said Curt Becker, justice minister for the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt.

German officers identified 530 men as suspects and they are being investigated for possession or distribution of child pornography. They included police, a border guard and "many teachers and educators", said Juergen Konrad, attorney-general for Saxony-Anhalt.

The investigation has already uncovered one man in Bavaria who had more than 26,000 pornographic photos of children. One photograph which was seized in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia showed a baby of four months being abused.

The first information from Germany was sent to Britain's Paedophile Online Intelligence Team in December and prompted the seven arrests.

The team, which is a joint operation between the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, has already sent out several dozen files to police forces around the UK.

The British investigators have been sent a mass of other intelligence from Germany which they are analysing. It could lead to further arrests. The German operation traced suspects using computer files seized last year from a man in Magdeburg. These contained a huge e-mail distribution list, through which suspected paedophiles exchanged pornographic images of children as young as four months.

Officials said the 26,500 suspects worldwide included people in the United States, Australia and Switzerland but did not give further details.

Peter Vogt, a public prosecutor, said members of the network had accessed material through a password system. A "manager" had checked to make sure that all participants were contributing, as well as viewing, pornographic images. If they were not, they were thrown out of the groups.

The case carried echoes of Operation Landslide, a paedophile hunt coordinated by Interpol which has led to more than 5,000 searches and arrests around the world.

The trigger was the 1999 discovery by the US Postal Inspection Service of a list of 389,000 people who had purchased access to a website supplying child pornography.

Landslide was the name of the internet portal operated by the pornographer Thomas Reedy, who is now serving a sentence of more than 1,000 years in jail.

Britain's National Crime Squad, which was supplied by the Americans with credit-card details of 7,200 people in this country who accessed Reedy's site, have named their follow-up investigation Operation Ore.