Wonderland Club paedophiles to be sentenced

British men who used Internet to "trade" images and film of children being abused face just three years

Seven men convicted for their part in the child pornography ring known as the "Wonderland Club" will be sentenced Monday at Kingston Crown Court, Surrey. The seven were among 107 arrested in 1998 following a covert international raid, dubbed Operation Cathedral, involving 12 countries.

Wonderland involved more than 100 people who used the Internet to distribute images, sounds and video of children being abused including some as young as nine months being raped.

Membership of Wonderland was by invite only and on the "payment" or "trade" of 10,000 indecent pictures of children. The images were often encrypted and swapped between Wonderland members on the Internet. Police seized 750,000 images of children.

Eight men in the UK were charged with conspiracy to distribute pornographic images, all admitted charges except one, 40-year-old Steven Ellis who killed himself shortly after his arrest.

The British men arrested were: Ahmed Ali, 30, a taxi driver from Tulse Hill, south London; Ian Baldock, 31, a computer consultant from St Leonards, East Sussex; Andrew Barlow, 25, unemployed, of Bletchley in Milton Keynes; Gavin Seagers, 29, a computer consultant from Dartford, Kent; Antoni Skinner, 36, a computer consultant from Cheltenham and Frederick Stephens, 46, a taxi driver from Hayes, Middlesex and David Hines, unemployed, from Bognor Regis in West Sussex and Steven Ellis, 40, unemployed, from Norwich.

Under present law they face a maximum term of three years. The government intends to increase the sentences for this type of crime but not in time to affect this case.

Detective superintendent Peter Spindler, of the National Crime Squad, said the convictions marked the end of the British part of the operation. "We have taken out those who considered themselves the best and we retrieved three quarters of a million paedophile images from their computers," he said. "I won't be complacent and say there aren't others out there but this was the most sophisticated and organised group that was in existence."

David Hines, who faces three years for his involvement in Wonderland, told the BBC's Panorama programme Sunday night: "We just didn't see it as abuse. We saw it as there were some children involved in relationships."

Hines praised Internet technology for providing such easy access to children. Hines added that other rings would "regroup" to start new "trading" in images and multimedia files of children being abused.

ZDNet's Wendy McAuliffe will be reporting from Kingston Crown Court later today. ZDNet will bring a Special Report on online paedophile activity later this month.

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