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EDITIONS
Monday, 13 January, 2003, 10:33 GMT
Operation Ore: Can the UK cope?
Computer user
People were tracked by police from their credit cards
The UK's largest ever police hunt against internet paedophiles - Operation Ore - has resulted in about 1,300 arrests out of a list of 6,000 suspects, but could be putting a strain on the criminal justice system.

The arrest of a computer consultant in Texas led to an international criminal investigation which is putting pressure on police forces in three continents.

Thomas Reedy was jailed last year for 1,335 years for running an internet child internet porn ring which was far bigger than police had imagined.

Credit card details used to access material gave police direct leads on 250,000 people worldwide, including The Who's Pete Townshend, who insists he was merely researching the subject.

Last year, police in the UK complained they lack the resources to investigate all the names passed to them by the Unites States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), a federal agency that investigates online paedophile activity.

I doubt the system will be able to deal competently, and in a way that protects children, as these people go through the system

Donald Findlater
Child protection expert
Now there are fears other parts of the justice system may creak under the pressure.

Donald Findlater was manager of the Wolvercote Clinic in Surrey - the only residential treatment centre in England for paedophiles, until its closure last year.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Operation Ore has presented enormous challenges which are currently being faced by the police in terms of properly investigating and accumulating evidence.

"The next challenge will be faced by the courts and probation service and maybe the prisons.

"We are going to see this large bulge of this group of individuals going through the system.

"And frankly I doubt the system will be able to deal competently, and in a way that protects children, as these people go through the system."

Treatment

Mr Findlater said it was important to assume that people who viewed images of children were potential abusers.

In the US, he said, one-third of those found to have possession of indecent images were actively abusing children.

He added that treatment could reduce offending, although it offered no cure.

Home Office minister Hilary Benn said the government had implemented measures to deal with the matter.

Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend says police can check his computer
Part of the role of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, set up at a cost of 25m, was to support police forces by giving technical expertise.

And the National Criminal Intelligence Service also took some of the strain by initially sifting through the 7,000 names to prioritise who they considered were the worst offenders.

Mr Benn said there were also six-month, intensive courses in prisons which gave treatment to convicts to reduce repeat offences.

We've got to stop thinking about paedophiles or people who use child pornography as the dirty old man in the raincoat

John Carr
Internet consultant
National Children's Home
He said in many cases the images were of very young children.

The minister told Today: "That is why this is such a serious issue with tough penalties and why there has to be effective treatment with strong supervision once the offenders are back in the community, to make sure we take every possible step we can to protect our children."

He said in the vast majority of cases there was no excuse for visiting a site and using a credit card to download material.

John Carr, an internet consultant for the charity NCH Action for Children, said 95% of the 1,300 arrested had no criminal record.

He told the same programme: "We've got to stop thinking about paedophiles or people who use child pornography as the dirty old man in the raincoat."

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


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