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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Q&A: Paedophile net raids

The biggest ever operation against internet paedophiles in the UK was carried out on Thursday. The BBC's home affairs correspondent, Jon Silverman, answers key questions about the operation.

How long was this operation planned for?

The operation was planned for six months, with two forces jointly in the lead - Greater Manchester and Hertfordshire.

But just as significant was the involvement of an internet filter company, Surf Control, which developed software enabling the police to monitor internet chatroom conversations much more quickly than previously.

Who was involved?

Thirty-four forces in all four countries of the UK executed search warrants at 75 addresses - some of them business premises, some private homes.

It is significant that Greater Manchester Police was in the lead because the head of its Abusive Images Unit, Detective Inspector Terry Jones, is one of the country's foremost experts on internet abuse.

How widespread is the use of computers in abuse?

It is difficult to say how widespread the use of computers is in terms of abuse, but figures over the past seven years recorded by GMP show how technology has transformed child abuse pornography and made it far more available.

In 1995, a dozen images were seized. By 1999 this figure had risen to 41,000. They have now stopped counting.

What type of charges can come out of this?

The charges are likely to be possession or distribution of indecent images. The maximum sentence for possession is five years and for production and distribution it is 10 years.

But the Sentencing Advisory Panel is carrying out a consultation exercise at the moment which may lead to even stiffer sentences.

Is the internet "unpoliceable"?

The internet is not unpoliceable but today's operation shows that a more pro-active approach is needed and all Internet Service Providers (ISP's) need to shower a greater commitment to monitoring traffic in chatrooms.

But the police put a positive spin on things. They say that whereas in the past abuse only came to light several years after it happened, advances in technology enable pro-active operations which can pick up abusers much more quickly.

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