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Thursday, September 3, 1998 Published at 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK


Global Net paedophile ring suspects quizzed

Police smash the biggest investigation into Internet pornography yet

Police are questioning dozens of people suspected of trafficking child pornography after smashing an international paedophile ring operating on the Internet.

The BBC's Alison Holt: "It's taken hours of painstaking work"
Police forces in 12 countries arrested 100 suspects on Wednesday after investigations in Britain and the USA produced a major breakthrough in the fight against Internet paedophilia.

More than 100,000 sexual images, including pictures of children as young as two-years-old, were seized during the investigation into a global network of paedophiles calling itself the "Wonderland Club".

Some of the images were generated in Britain. One of the men arrested in Britain was described as an active "producer" of the group.

Swoops in three continents

In the UK, police raided 15 addresses in eight areas and arrested 11 men. Colleagues in Italy, France, Norway, Sweden and Germany targeted 26 people, seizing computers, video tapes and CD Roms.

Officers working in the US had arrested 32 suspects and it is also believed that they have been able to disable key servers used to store the illegal material for the network.

Other raids, all carried out at 0400 GMT, took place in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, and Portugal.

The club's net is thought to spread even wider than the 12 countries involved in the raids, although intelligence is still being gathered on its operations.

'Stomach turning'

Some of the images described as "disgusting" and "stomach turning" were generated in the UK, with one of the men arrested in the UK described as an active "producer" member of the group.

Detective Superintendent John Stewardson, who led the investigation from the UK, said their priority now was to track down the victims of the ring to help bring their abusers to justice.

He said the inquiry, believed to be the biggest investigation into Internet pornography yet, had been "difficult and distressing".

The international investigation began when officers with Sussex police, south-east England, received a tip-off from US Customs officers which led them to the "Wonderland Club" network.

Aided by the National Criminal Intelligence Service, they drew in Interpol and police forces across Europe when it emerged that there was almost constant international contact over the Internet between members of the ring.

'Horrendous legacy'

Det Supt Stewardson said the "Wonderland Club" paedophiles had left a "horrendous legacy" of abuse among their victims.

"The children abused were of both sexes and some it would appear were as young as two, although we don't know who these children are yet.

"The content would turn the stomach of any right-minded person."

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