Police aid Philippines abuse probe

British police have joined forces with Australian and US investigators to smash a paedophile ring which streamed live child abuse from the Philippines.

The investigation, which has been going on for two years, focuses on what the UK's National Crime Agency calls "a significant and emerging threat", particularly in developing countries.

Three other investigations are taking place into live streaming of child sex abuse, with 139 Britons among the 733 suspects.

So far 17 Britons have been arrested as part of the Philippines inquiry, Operation Endeavour, which has spanned 12 countries and has seen involvement from police in the UK, Australia and the US.

Andy Baker from the National Crime Agency said: " This investigation has identified some extremely dangerous child sexual offenders who believed paying for children to be abused to order was something they could get away with.

"Being thousands of miles away makes no difference to their guilt. In my mind they are just as responsible for the abuse of these children as the contact abusers overseas.

"Protecting the victims of abuse is our priority and that means attacking every link in the chain, from dismantling the organised groups who are motivated by profit through to targeting their customers."

So far 15 children aged six to 15 have been rescued after being identified as victims. In some cases their own relatives sold them for abuse.

In the UK five of the 17 suspects arrested have been convicted, nine investigations are ongoing, one will face no further action and two are dead.

The inquiry was prompted when Northamptonshire Police visited registered sex offender Timothy Ford and began tracking the international abuse network from obscene videos they found on his computer.

He was paying to view live sex abuse and planned to move to the Philippines to open an internet cafe, but instead was jailed for eight-and-a-half years in March last year.

Another member of the paedophile network, Thomas Owen, who had nearly four million images of child abuse when he was arrested, was jailed for seven years in July last year.

In a statement, the NCA said: "The use of webcams to stream live abuse, particularly from the developing world, is a significant and emerging threat according to the NCA's CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) command.

"Extreme poverty, the increasing availability of high-speed internet and the existence of a vast and comparatively wealthy overseas customer base has led to organised crime groups exploiting children for financial gain."

Stephanie McCourt, of the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) - now part of the NCA - said the operation was proof that offenders should no longer feel "safe" from prosecution simply because the girls they have contacted are in foreign jurisdictions.

She told BBC Breakfast: "They (paedophiles) need to know the internet is not a safe place for them because it leaves a trail for us to follow.

"They must also not be under the mistaken impression that this is a crime which carries no guilt because it happens on the other side of the world. It is just as bad, just as harmful as though it was happening to the children right here in the UK.

"It matters not to us where the outcome of the offence is. The UK offenders are creating the demand for this type of abuse, and without that demand then people would not be abused in this way by these organised crime networks in the Philippines.

"For as long as it goes on, we will be there to identify, investigate and stop them."

Last year it was revealed that a children's charity used a fictional computer-generated character to ensnare online paedophiles.

The "Sweetie" avatar posed as a 10-year-old girl from the Philippines to catch hundreds of men paying for a child to perform sex acts over the internet.

The ruse, devised by the Terre des Hommes charity, involved the character posing in video chat rooms.

The Dutch branch of the charity said around 20,000 men contacted Sweetie, with around 1,000 offering her money.

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