Wednesday 16 March 2011
HUNDREDS OF SUSPECTS TRACKED IN INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABUSE INVESTIGATION
- UK’s national centre for protecting children leads global operation
- Forces in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, US and Europol work collaboratively
- Offenders tracked to many other countries including Italy, Spain and Thailand
- 670 offenders targeted across the world
- 184 offenders arrested to date worldwide
- 230 children safeguarded to date worldwide
- 240 offenders targeted in the UK
- 121 offenders arrested to date in the UK
- 60 children safeguarded to date in the UK
Hundreds of suspected paedophiles have been identified and many children safeguarded following one of the biggest investigations of its kind so far by law enforcement agencies across the world.
The suspects were members of an online forum – boylover.net - which was operated from a server based in the Netherlands.
Known as Operation Rescue, the investigation has run for over three years and was led by the UK’s national centre for child protection – the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre - who joined up with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), New Zealand Police, Europol, the Zaanstreek-Waterland Police in the Netherlands and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to track offenders on a truly global scale.
So far 184 arrests have been made worldwide and 230 children safeguarded. In the UK alone 60 children have been safeguarded and 121 offenders arrested of which there have been 33 convictions. Investigations across the world continue.
The website, which has now been taken down, attempted to operate as a ‘discussion only’ forum where people could share their sexual interest in young boys without committing any specific offences, thus operating ‘below the radar’. Having made contact on the site, however, members would move to more private channels such as email in order to exchange and share illegal images and films of children being abused.
During the investigation, CEOP and the AFP’s covert internet teams also tracked the migration of offenders to other sites where further investigations and risk assessments continued against multiple suspects who did not realise they were the focus of law enforcement attention.
Operation Rescue began in 2007, when the site came to the attention of both CEOP and the AFP during independent enquiries. Already working together as part of the Virtual Global Taskforce - an international alliance of law enforcement agencies working to combat online child sexual abuse - the UK and Australia joined forces to progress the investigation.
Covert investigators were deployed to infiltrate the site in order to quickly identify those members who were assessed as posing the highest risk to children. The extent to which members of the site were also involved in networking in the ‘real world’ and in offline offending emerged. In February 2008, for example, CEOP provided intelligence to the Royal Thai Police about British nationals who were suspected of committing child sexual abuse in their jurisdiction. This led ultimately to Operation Naga in November 2008, during which four suspects were arrested.
In March 2008, CEOP located the owner of the site and traced the server to Holland, involving the Zaanstreek-Waterland Police in the Netherlands and Europol in the investigation.
Between June 2008 and June 2009, the US ICE agency, the Italian Postal and Communications Police, the RCMP and the New Zealand Police all joined the investigation as the scale of the international network became clear and suspects were identified in their jurisdictions.
Further interrogation of the server by the Zaanstreek-Waterland Police in the Netherlands and Europol led to further international disseminations.
Having identified 240 suspected offenders in the UK, CEOP continues to work with forces who are actively pursuing the intelligence arising from Operation Rescue. This has lead to the arrest of a number of individuals suspected of serious offences against children, some of whom are now awaiting trial. The UK suspects in this operation are aged between 17 and 82 and come from all walks of life. They include police officers, scout leaders and teachers.
Peter Davies, the UK’s police chief who leads the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and is also the UK’s lead for child protection 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 lead - 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.”