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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 14:35 GMT
Renewed hunt for Wonderland victims
Paedophile files
Thousands of computer files were seized by the NCS
Police trying to identify children in photographs circulated by the Wonderland Club paedophile ring are stepping up their hunt by using the latest facial mapping technology.

The National Crime Squad (NCS) has found just 18 of the 1,200 youngsters featured in the pornographic images circulated by the club's members.

But the team which smashed the ring is hoping a 500,000 pilot project based on facial mapping will help them find many more.


Our operational priority was always to protect children from abuse

Peter Spindler
National Crime Squad

The NCS is working with a Canadian company called Imagis to develop the new system, which should allow them to match photographs of the same child taken at different times and in different places.

The few computer programmes currently available to police investigating paedophile activity concentrate on identifying the backgrounds of photographs in a bid to link them to the perpetrators.

The NCS's new programme will concentrate far more on identifying the child.

Interpol

Seven British members of the Wonderland Club were jailed in February 2001 for between 12 and 30 months each.

Detective Superintendent Peter Spindler, who was in overall charge of the original Wonderland operation, said: "Our operational priority was always to protect children from abuse and we undertook to use the material seized to further this aim.

"We believe we now have access to the best available tool which clearly has the potential to be used internationally."

Following Operation Cathedral, which uncovered Wonderland in 1998, detectives seized 750,000 images of abuse.

Generic web user picture
Wonderland Club members communicated on the internet

These were cleaned up and sanitised and more than 1,200 clearly identifiable children's faces were distributed to all UK police forces and international forces through Interpol.

"To date we have only been able to make 18 positive identifications," Mr Spindler said in a report to the NCS Service Authority.

"The multi-agency pilot project involved Child Protection Teams, Social Services and education departments but was found to be very labour intensive and time consuming.

International database

"Valuable resources were diverted from direct child protection activity by the high number of `false positive' identifications."

The NCS was at the forefront of another international paedophile crackdown, Operation Landmark, in November last year, and from that was able to add another 60,000 obscene images to its database.

NCS director general Bill Hughes and National Criminal Intelligence Service director general John Abbott want the G8's Lyon Group and Europol to create a single international victim database hosted by Interpol.

"It is our intention as the owners of the world's largest collection of paedophilic data to deliver the international solution to this problem," said Mr Spindler.

After the completion of the facial mapping project in the UK, a feasibility study will be carried out for its use internationally.

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