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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 19:02 GMT 20:02 UK
Parents held over net child abuse
Computer keyboard
The ring was first uncovered in Denmark
An international ring of paedophiles has been uncovered in which parents allegedly abused their own children and then posted the images on the internet, the United States Customs Service says.


Instead of protecting their children, these parents exploited them in the worst possible way

US Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner

Ten people have been arrested in the US and 10 in Europe, including in England.

The head of the US Customs Service, Robert Bonner, described it as the most despicable crime he had ever encountered.

He said at least 45 children between the ages of two and 14 had been abused, most of them by their own parents.

Children 'exchanged'

Mr Bonner said the children had been forced to commit sex acts.

Members of the ring, referred to as "the club", sent each other messages requesting photos of specific poses.

The ring
9 Americans charged
1 sentenced
1 committed suicide
6 non-Americans indicted, facing extradition
4 charged in their own countries
One man asked for an audiotape of a child crying while being spanked.

There was one case, Mr Bonner said, of parents exchanging children, not just their photos.

He said: ''In this case the normal safe harbour for children - which is their own parents - turned out to be these children's chamber of horrors. Instead of protecting their children, these parents exploited them in the worst possible way.''

"Together we must find ways to protect our children and to starve the paedophiles of the sordid images that induce them to act," he added.

Indictment

The ring was first uncovered in Denmark last November but was found to stretch across Europe and the United States.

Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner
Bonner: More arrests expected
Operation Hamlet was launched after Danish police were given information by the Save the Children charity about photographs of a man molesting a nine-year-old girl.

Fifteen of the people, including nine Americans, were indicted on federal conspiracy charges in Fresno, California on Thursday.

The 10th American committed suicide after his arrest. Another person is already serving a 20-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to the charges.

The US Justice Department is seeking the extradition of the six others from Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands, while the remaining four non-Americans will face charges at home.

US Customs say they are seeking the extradition of five of those now under arrest in Europe.

Despite the arrests, Mr Bonner warned the children would continue to suffer for years as their photos were now being passed over the internet from paedophile to paedophile.

He added that the investigation was continuing and more arrests were expected.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rob Watson
"This was a ring of paedophiles involving parents"
Head of US Customs Service Robert Bonner
"Instead of protecting their children, these parents exploited them in the worst possible way"
See also:

05 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
02 Aug 02 | England
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