A global online paedophile network has been smashed in a worldwide police operation that has led to hundreds of arrests and many convictions.
The investigation exposed more than 50 000 members in the United Kingdom, United States, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand, where some of the first arrests were made.
A total of 230 children are said to have been taken out of danger, 60 of them in the UK. Worldwide, 184 suspects have been arrested, 121 of them in Britain.
Details were revealed at a press conference in The Hague, The Netherlands, where the website’s server was based.
The network hid behind a legal online forum, boylover.net, which operated from a server based in The Netherlands but had members from around the world. The site operated as a discussion-only forum where members could share their sexual interest in young boys without committing specific offences. Having made contact, members would move to more private channels such as email to exchange and share illegal images of children being abused.
The investigation, Operation Rescue, was led by the UK’s national centre for child protection and joined by the Australian federal police, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, New Zealand police, Europol, the Zaanstreek-Waterland police in The Netherlands and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It targeted 670 offenders.
‘Broken new ground’
Peter Davies, who leads the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), said: “The scale and success of Operation Rescue has broken new ground. Not only is it one of the largest operation of its kind to date — and the biggest operation we have led — it also demonstrates the impact of international law enforcement agencies working together with one single objective: to safeguard children and bring offenders to justice. That drive has been the hallmark of all the forces and teams involved.
“What we show today is that while these offenders felt anonymous in some way because they were using the internet to communicate, the technology was actually being used against them. Everything they did online, everyone they talked to or anything they shared could and was tracked by following the digital footprint.
“We are grateful to the support of our law enforcement colleagues both nationally and internationally who have supported Ceop in this operation.”
Operation Rescue began in 2007, after Ceop and Australian police independently discovered the site. They were already working together as part of the Virtual Global Taskforce to target online child sexual abuse and joined forces. Covert investigators infiltrated the site to identify members who posed the biggest risk to children — guardian.co.uk