Worldwide child porn network is broken up

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The Independent Online

The world's biggest crackdown on paedophiles - co-ordinated from the UK - reached a successful conclusion yesterday when the last of seven British suspects pleaded guilty to distributing pornographic images of children aroundthe globe.

The world's biggest crackdown on paedophiles - co-ordinated from the UK - reached a successful conclusion yesterday when the last of seven British suspects pleaded guilty to distributing pornographic images of children aroundthe globe.

Gavin Seagers, 29, a computer consultant, admitted his part in a huge conspiracy that led to police raids on paedophiles' homes in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, the United States and Britain.

Operation Cathedral, launched on 2 September 1998, resulted in the arrest of more than 100 men worldwide. Detectives acting in a meticulously co-ordinated operation and armed with 107 search warrants seized a huge quantity of computer equipment, videos and paedophile material that featured 750,000 images of children being abused.

The other six, who admitted their guilt at earlier hearings, were: Ian Baldock, 31, a computer consultant from St Leonards, East Sussex; David Hines, 30, of Bognor Regis, West Sussex; Antoni Skinner, 36, a computer consultant from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire; Ahmed Ali, 30, a taxi driver from Tulse Hill, London; Andrew Barlow, 25, from Milton Keynes; and Frederick Stephens, 46, a taxi driver, from Hayes, west London.

An eighth man, Steven Ellis, 40, from Norwich, Norfolk, was also charged but committed suicide in January 1999.

David Chaiken, 36, another computer consultant, was charged separately with possessing and distributing indecent images of children. He was jailed for a total of eight months at Reading Crown Court in June 1999 and ordered to be placed on the sex offenders' register for 10 years.

The operation is being seen as a huge success for the National Crime Squad. Bob Packham, its deputy director general, said: "This operation demonstrates, national agencies such as ours have the ability to take on large enquiries of this kind."

The operation that led to the discovery of the highly secret child pornography and paedophile network, known as the Wonderland Club, had its origins in California three years ago. It was when an investigation into a smaller internet paedophile group, called the Orchid Club, in which 16 men were charged, that an address in East Sussex first emerged.

American customs officers contacted the National Criminal Intelligence Service in London, which tipped off Sussex Police. A visit to Baldock's home in St Leonards linked him to the Orchid Club but a police computer expert also noticed a system hidden behind passwords. It was the Wonderland Club.

Detective Chief Inspector David Wood, of Sussex Police, said: "We found more than 10,000 distressing images." After briefings with officers from 11 countries, the trap was sprung, the paedophile ring smashed.

Mr Wood said: "The images ranged from children of three-months to 18 years. We are talking about serious sexual abuse to young children."

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