Boy, 13, arrested in crackdown on 'Net paedophiles'

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The Independent Online

Police raided 43 homes across Britain yesterday in the culmination of a four-month investigation into what officers described as "the dark side of the internet" ­ its use for paedophile activity.

Police raided 43 homes across Britain yesterday in the culmination of a four-month investigation into what officers described as "the dark side of the internet" ­ its use for paedophile activity.

A 13-year-old boy and an officer of a national youth organisation were among those arrested in the early-morning raids, which were made by 25 forces, from Lothian and the Borders to Wiltshire, and co-ordinated by Greater Manchester Police.

Unlike the familiar early-morning raids aimed at taking drug dealers by surprise, in which doors are battered down before suspects can dispose of their wares, yesterday's arrests came after a mere knock on the front door at 7am. Even if the suspects ­ who are suspected of downloading and distributing child pornography ­ had seen police approaching their homes, they would have been unable to remove all trace of images in time.

Online conversations had been detected by officers from Greater Manchester's obscene publications unit, who hovered and listened in to chatrooms and channels they believed were frequented by people possessing and distributing indecent images of children. No messages were posted by the officers, the force insisted. The apparent success of the operation, codenamed Appal, was also attributed to £30,000 of internet tracing software, previously used by forces in America, which made the inquiry less labour-intensive.

"The realisation is that you can't hide on the dark side of the internet," said Med Hughes, an assistant chief constable in the Greater Manchester force. "We are going to shine a beam of light into it, start opening up that world and prosecuting those who are responsible for it.

"We have sent a message to people who use the internet for exchanging indecent images of children. We have the tools to monitor their behaviour. We are going to use them and we are going to come after them."

Inspector Terry Jones, head of Greater Manchester's obscene publications unit, said: "This is primarily a child protection issue. Those who identify themselves as having an inappropriate interest in children will be closely scrutinised as to their connection with them and the minimum outcome for those convicted will be their inclusion on the sex offenders register to monitor their future conduct."

By late yesterday at least 17 people, mainly adult males, had been arrested from 21 of the raids, and a quantity of computer equipment seized.

InspJones revealed that those arrested included members of "some interesting professions". He said: "We also have a disturbing scenario of one or two juveniles who have been caught in this way. One of them appears to be a 13-year-old boy."

Two people were also arrested before the raids in the same inquiry. One was a registered sex offender in Greater Manchester who was awaiting sentence at a crown court.

Police said the 13-year-old boy arrested as part of the operation was also a potential victim and would be treated in that light.

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