Details are emerging about the full extent of the largest internet paedophile ring yet discovered as an international team led from the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) shuts it down. After a three-year investigation it has now been made public that the global forum had 70,000 followers at its height, leading to 4,000 intelligence reports being sent to police across 30 countries.
‘Operation Rescue’ has so far identified 670 suspects and 230 abused children. In the UK, the 240 those suspects include police officers, teachers, karate teacherand a woman.To date, 33 have been convicted, including John McMurdo, a scout leader from Plymouth. Another forum user was Stephen Palmer, 54, of Birkenhead, who shared abuse images with contacts in the US. A third man, 46-year-old Colin Hoey Brown of Bromsgrove, was jailed for making and distributing almost 1,000 images.
184 people have been arrested – 121 of them in the UK. Some 60 children have been protected in the UK.
Speaking at a news conference at The Hague in the Netherlands, Rob Wainwright, director of European police agency Europol said that the network hid behind a legal online forum which operated out of the country – but its members came from around the world. Along with the Netherlands and the UK, suspects have been identified in Australia, Italy, Canada, New Zealand and Thailand.
The members of the network went into a private channel, and then used its secret systems to share films and images of abused children. UK Child abuse investigators infiltrated the network and were posing as paedophiles to gather intelligence.
The UK’s Internet Watch Foundation estimates there are around 450 criminal gangs around the world making money from images of child sex abuse, the 10 most prolific of these account for more than 650 web pages. They are finding new ways to distribute images such as smaller social networks, image-sharing sites, free website hosting platforms and hacked websites.