Police lack resources for paedophile hunts

Operation Cathedral has successfully trapped paedophiles across the globe but it may not happen again

British paedophile units admit they do not have the resources and expertise to pull off further investigations like Operation Cathedral.

Operation Cathedral was the largest ever international porn raid and followed months of surveillance of the notorious Wonderland Club. On 2 September 1998 an international police operation involving 12 countries successfully seized nearly a million child porn images as well as 1,800 "computerised videos" depicting children suffering sexual abuse.

Seven British men were jailed Tuesday for their participation in the Wonderland Club, but child protection units around the country admit the task of policing the Internet far exceeds the resources available to them.

"Britain has been slow to react to Internet paedophilia, and we need the government to approve resources so that we can deal with the problem and make the Internet a safer place for children," said inspector Terry Jones from the Obscene Publications Unit at Greater Manchester Police.

Judge Kenneth Macrae -- who sentenced the Wonderland defendants -- praised the police operation. "In my view, detective superintendent Stewardson and detective chief inspector Wood are to be commended for the diligence and care with which they've performed their duties," he said.

Proactive investigations such as Operation Cathedral however are a rarity in Britain. "There is no unit in the country capable of doing what the National Crime Squad (NCS) did two years ago," said an NCS spokesperson. She explained that NCS took responsibility for the operation because of its ability to pull together international teams. "Resources were not an issue," she added.

Peter Sommer, research fellow at the London School of Economics acted as an expert defence witness at the Operation Cathedral trial in January, but argues limited police resources force child protection units to focus on finding abused children rather than Internet paedophiles. "The people who collect images [and entice] online are part of the picture but less important -- that's secondary abuse," said Sommer.

In Manchester, 70 percent of the Obscene Publications Unit's work is based on reactive investigations surfacing through child abuse cases. "The problem with proactively policing the Internet is a resource issue -- child protection units don't have time to surf the Internet for paedophiles," argues Jim Reynolds, former head of the paedophile unit at New Scotland Yard. "Everyone's keen for more to be done until [it comes to the] money be[ing] spent, as it all comes out of the tax-payers money," asserted Sommer.

The Patrick Green enquiry last October dramatically revealed the lack of Internet expertise amongst the British police force. Green was released six hours after his arrest on grounds of insufficient evidence, despite 63 emails from Green to the 12-year-old girl being found on the victim's computer. Officers confiscated Green's hard drive from his home, but the girl's father was told that it would take six weeks for the seized equipment to be analysed. "I have been staggered at how ill-equipped the law and police are to deal with these crimes. Technology has outpaced the law," the father told The Mirror.

The High-Tech Crime Unit launched by home secretary Jack Straw is due to start work in April, with the aim of cracking down on Internet crime. "Its remit is very vague at this stage -- it will be new and won't be there to look at Internet paedophile cases specifically," stated the NCS spokesperson.

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