Seven Britons guilty over child porn ring

Operation Cathedral sends seven Britons down after they are found guilty of their involvement in the world's largest Internet child porn ring

Seven British men have pleaded guilty for their participation in the world's biggest Internet pornography ring.

The seven were among 180 arrested on 2 September 1998 after a massive international police operation involving 12 countries to break what was dubbed the Wonderland Club. To become a member of the club, interested parties were asked to submit 10,000 indecent images of children after receiving an invite from an existing member.

Raids in 1998 under the codename Operation Cathedral succesfully seized nearly a million child porn images as well as around 1,800 "computerised videos" depicting children suffering sexual abuse.

Eight British men were arrested, but one, Steven Ellis, unemployed from Norwich, committed suicide. The other men were: Ahmed Ali, 28, a taxi driver from London, Ian Baldock, 28, a computer consultant from St Leonards, East Sussex, Andrew Barlow, 23, unemployed, of Bletchley in Milton Keynes, Gavin Seagers, 27, a computer consultant from Dartford, Kent, Antoni Skinner, 34, a computer consultant from Cheltenham, Frederick Stephens, 44, a taxi driver from Hayes, Middlesex, David Hines, 28, unemployed, from Bognor Regis in West Sussex, and Steven Ellis.

Another man, David Chaiken, 36, a computer consultant from Holmleaze, Maidenhead, Berks was charged separately with possession and distribution of indecent images of children.

The Wonderland Club used sophisticated encryption to hide its activities, and was able to tap into the computer skills offerred by several of its members.

In a statement, Bob Packham, deputy director general of the National Crime Squad (NCS) which headed up the investigation, said: "This was a complex operation requiring close coordination with law-enforcement colleagues around the globe and in this country. It demonstrates once again that the Internet can be used for evil purposes."

Jackie Bennett, spokesperson for the NCS, says the case illustrates that police are far from powerless to combat this sort of crime.

"This has got to send out the message that you can't hide on the Net. If you're doing something illegal, you'll get caught."

Peter Sommer, a researcher at the London School of Economics who acted as an expert witness at the trial, says that despite the efforts these criminals took to hide their activities, the police investigation behind Operation Cathedral was highly efficient. "This was a very successful operation," he says. "It was an elite group [of paedophiles]."

Sommer points out that the police were able to carry out the investigation with powers that the government at the time claimed were inadequate.

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