The UK’s police have launched a crack down on internet paedophiles after continued reporting of offences involving the downloading of images of child abuse.
According to police sources over 300 people a month are still being referred to special police paedophile units despite the success of ‘Operation Ore’ which led to the names of 7,272 suspects being passed to forces in the UK after US police broke up a paedophile website called Landslide. As a result police forces around the UK have been swamped with the task of investigating the computers of suspected child abusers.
Of the 7,272 people named in Operation Ore, the police have so far carried out 4,283 searches and made 3,744 arrests and have committed themselves to investigating every case, 35 of those caught up in the investigation have committed suicide.
Backlog of cases
At the moment there are still 800 investigations pending, and police forces around the country are groaning under the strain of investigating them.
A situation that has left some police computer forensic departments with backlogs ranging between 9 and 18 months and prevented them from working on other non-paedophile cases.
Forces in South Wales and the North West are known to be particularly badly hit, with one force currently turning away cases until it has dealt with its backlog.
The scale of the problem has led to a campaign headed up by the National Crime Squad, the UK’s version of the FBI to stamp out easy access to paedophile websites and to prosecute and seize the assets of the people who produce them.
According to Jim Gamble, Deputy Director of the National Crime Squad and head of the Virtual Global Taskforce, the multi-national organisation tasked with policing the internet launched earlier this year, over 55 per cent of paedophile websites are now run as commercial operations with a significant involvement from organised crime.
“Over the last two years the opportunities for crime have grown and it is only in the last year that the police have started to occupy this space.
Organised crime profits from paedophiles
“With those people trying to make money from this we have already started targeting their websites and we are following where the money goes. We are working systematically to identify and rescue children involved, have these people prosecuted in the countries that they are operating from and to seize their houses and their funds.”
An initiative that is part of three-pronged approach – identification, elimination and deterrence.
Already the VGTF website, provides a one-stop shop for the reporting of suspicious websites and approaches from individuals, and the third stage is the development of a series of partnerships with companies ranging from AOL, BT, Microsoft and Vodaphone.
Companies who have all agreed to work to filter paedophile content from the web using a list of illegal websites collected by the UK Government- backed Internet Watch Foundation.
Gamble is also working to bring smaller internet companies into the initiative.
Up till now they have claimed they cannot afford the £1m a year BT is rumoured to be spending to filter its network but one new company Streamshield, has now developed a product that filters out websites blacklisted by the IWF for a one off cost of around £60,000 – a total cost of £5m between the UK’s 92 internet companies – or 50p per child in the country.
Honey traps hunt offenders
And in a final twist to the crackdown, the police are creating fake paedophile websites known as ‘honey-traps’ aimed at catching casual internet searches for paedophile websites.
People logging on think they have found a perverts website but when they try and download an image they are told that they have attempted to commit a crime and that their details have been logged and they may be prosecuted.
“We’re raising awareness that we are out there, and that the internet is not a lawless place. As the result of the operations that we’ve been mounting we’ve now had people turning themselves into police stations.
“The awareness that we’re out there is increasing because we’ve even had people reporting themselves for being on our website when it hasn’t been up but they think they’ve been on it, while in reality they have been on real paedophile sites” said Gamble.
The police policy is aimed at disrupting what has widely been interpreted as a growth in paedophile interest due to material becoming readily available via the web.
Police experts have discovered that the web can turn a fleeting skirmish with paedophilia into a full blown problem where a casual inquiry after paedophile material eventually leads to an individual committing a paedophile offence.
“Our inquiries have shown that first people download the pictures, then they search for video images which they play with the sound turned off, then they decide to listen to what is going on eventually they decide to experiment for themselves.
“It’s a nasty slide that people start on.”
The police view is that by stopping people starting on that slide they prevent a child from being abused and having their life ruined and stop an adult from tearing their life to pieces and the lives of their families too.
Commissioned Daily Mirror, published The Register, Scottish Sunday Post