Two MPs 'linked to internet pornography investigation'

By Jason Bennetto,Crime Correspondent
Monday 13 January 2003 01:00

Two MPs are facing investigation over paying for child pornography from the same illegal internet site used by the rock star Pete Townshend, according to police sources.

The names of the MPs and a number of other well-known people are understood to be on the list of about 6,000 British men who are suspected of having subscribed about two years ago to an American pay-as-you-view pornography site. The inquiry, known as Operation Ore, began after the US Postal Service uncovered the website, which was being operated from Texas.

Scotland Yard is thought to be making strenuous checks on the details given of the politicians to make sure that their credit cards had not been stolen or cloned.

So far more than 1,300 people, including at least 50 police officers, have been arrested as part of the biggest paedophile investigation carried out in Britain. A police source said: "Most of the people using the porn site more than two years ago were middle-class, well-to-do people."

Mr Townshend, 57, the songwriter and guitarist with the Who, admitted on Saturday that he had once used his credit card to pay to look at child pornography on the internet. But he insisted he was not a paedophile and had only viewed the abusive material to help him with research for his autobiography, which includes passages about him being sexually abused as a child.

He is to be questioned by Scotland Yard detectives, who will also want to examine his computers to determine whether he has accessed other paedophile material.

Mr Townshend said he paid to look at the child pornography on just one occasion. This has been confirmed by a police source. The musician was discovered to have accessed the site about two years ago.

Campaigners against internet child pornography described his explanation as "no excuse". Mark Stephens, vice-chairman of the Internet Watch Foundation, said: "There are many high-profile individuals who fight against child pornography. But it is wrong-headed, misguided and illegal to look at or download or even to pay to download paedophiliac material, and if you do so you are likely to go to prison.

"Pete Townshend has admitted a criminal offence and this goes to mitigation and it's a matter for a court to accept if he was merely doing research or something worse."

Of the police officers arrested as part of Operation Ore, eight have been charged, including Detective Constable Brian Stevens, 41, one of the family liaison officers in the Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman murder inquiry in Soham. He has been charged with making indecent images of children and indecently assaulting two girls.

The subscribers to the pay-to-view site were traced through their credit card, e-mail and personal details, given from May 1999 to the summer of 2001 to the Texan couple who ran the website.