Eighty people caught in Net paedophile ring

But Manchester police chief argues against the success of international paedophile raids

Spanish police broke an international child pornography ring on Friday, which had distributed more than 20,000 indecent images of children around the globe via the Internet.

Eighty people are thought to have been involved in the 21-country paedophile ring. The Spanish police and Interpol arrested seven people over the weekend, with one more detention expected shortly.

Further arrests are expected abroad, but Terry Jones at Greater Manchester's Obscene Publications Unit argues against the long-term success of international Net paedophile crackdowns. "The strategy for the future should be that every country is focused on tidying up its own backyard, so that collectively we can deal with the problem of Net paedophilia." In Germany, for instance, 87 percent of Internet criminals that are detected are located in other countries, usually in the US.

Last month, 48 search warrants were executed by Greater Manchester's Obscene Publications Unit, for what became the largest proactive investigation ever undertaken in the UK to crack down on Internet child pornography. In Operation Appal, the police broke through the international nature of the Web through filtering software, and focused only on UK-based activity.

In this weekend's Spanish operation, 54 distribution points were discovered, 21 of which were in America.

The Spanish network was based in the town of Pamplona, and operated through a Web distribution list entitled "nudeboys2" which was comprised of pseudonyms. All of the personal data on the mailing lists was false, but police were able to obtain real details of the ring members through new tracking methods.

Twenty thousand indecent images of children primarily from poor areas in Asia, Latin America, Russia and the US were recovered. "The figures game can be very misleading," said Jones. "Operation Queensland uncovered 50,000 images in an individual's own collection -- 20,000 images is not that significant in any real terms."

In February, seven British men were jailed for their involvement in the notorious paedophile ring known as the Wonderland Club. On 2 September 1998 an international police operation dubbed Operation Cathedral, involving 12 countries, successfully seized nearly a million child porn images as well as 1,800 "computerised videos" depicting children suffering sexual abuse. The paedophiles were given sentences ranging from 12 to 30 months -- no one received the maximum possible sentence of three years.

The Home-Office-commissioned National High-Tech Crime Unit was launched last Wednesday, highlighting a government commitment to crack down on computer-based crime. The Unit has confirmed Internet paedophilia will be high on its list of priorities.

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