Police forces across England and Wales took part in the biggest ever international operation against Internet paedophiles on Wednesday morning.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Landmark, has successfully identified 12 suspected paedophiles in the UK. At 06:00 GMT, the National Crime Squad (NCS) coordinated dawn raids on the 12 British targets, and computers and software were seized as evidence.
Nineteen countries were involved in the operation, which resulted in the execution of 130 search warrants throughout the night. The dawn swoops are reported to have discovered 60,000 images of child pornography.
Inspector Terry Jones at Greater Manchester's Obscene Publications Unit was involved in the home raid of one target located in his force's region. "We have been looking at our target for a few months -- we executed a search warrant on his house at 6am, and have recovered a computer, floppies and CDs," he said. "We have definite evidence of child abuse images."
Over the past 12 months, more than 30 newsgroups known to regularly host indecent images of children were closely monitored by international police forces. Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday morning, detective superintendent Peter Spindler at NCS said that the British Internet Service Provider (ISP) Demon was asked to image its servers on a particular day. The traffic data collected revealed 10,000 people to have accessed the offending newsgroups on that given day. This figure was narrowed down to 2,800 people who had visited the groups at least 10 times, and finally 130 targets were identified for showing evidence of committing criminal offences online.
"With the assistance of Demon Internet and the support and guidance of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), we are able to show that those accessing these newsgroups did so regularly and with purpose," said Spindler. "We also learned, not surprisingly, that those abusing the Internet have learnt from recent police successes how best to protect their true identities."
NCS has confirmed that sophisticated facial-mapping software has been developed to help identify the children depicted in the new paedophilic images unearthed through the operation. All information gathered through the help of the new software will be entered into an international police database. "We hope that the database can be used to identify children who are being systematically abused for the gratification of a small but dangerous section of society," Spindler added.
NCS distributed the intelligence to the relevant police forces across the UK, and ISPs were approached for the Internet account details of the 12 British suspects.
No information is currently available on arrests that may have taken place, but Greater Manchester Police has a positive warrant for arrest on its target.
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