Page last updated at 18:36 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 19:36 UK

Hunting the internet predators

By Ben Ando
BBC News


Person typing on a computer
Ceop has smashed six organised paedophile rings in the past year

In the heart of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre, or Ceop, is a small windowless room - the victim identification suite.

In red letters on one wall, a sign reads: "There may be disturbing sounds and images in this room."

It is two years since Ceop was created, establishing a powerful alliance of British and foreign police forces, computer experts, charities and schools.

At the coalface are specialist officers, always working in pairs, who look at image after image of the most horrific child abuse.

They scan the faces of the victims with specialist software, creating digital maps that can be compared with hundreds of thousands of other images to find matches.

They look at the borders of the images and at the backgrounds. Are there clues to the location, even the country? Electrical sockets, furnishings and books can all narrow down the search.

On average it takes two months to trace each child.

Harrowing work

John Hodge is seconded to Ceop from Devon and Cornwall Police.

He explains that the computer software used will often show that a single image has been sent from paedophile to paedophile, creating a copy in each computer it is downloaded to.

These amount to thousands of separate records of a split second of abuse.

In the last 12 months, the Ceop team has studied close to a million abuse images and as a result, 18 children have been traced and brought to safety.

The work is harrowing and all members of the team receive compulsory counselling, but sources say their job satisfaction comes when a child is removed from danger.

Growing success

Ceop's aim is to provide a focus for efforts to track down internet paedophiles and their victims.

It also offers support and expertise to police forces at a local, national and international level.

Jim Gamble, Ceop chief executive
Ceop chief executive Jim Gamble has vowed to track sex offenders down

Figures reveal that in its second year 297 suspected internet sex offenders were arrested - a threefold increase on the previous year - and 131 children were taken out of danger, either by being traced online or by being rescued in raids or other live operations.

Ceop also received 5,812 reports of abuse in the last 12 months - a 76% rise from the year before - and smashed six organised paedophile rings.

In one case, a brewer was jailed indefinitely after admitting that from his bedroom in Suffolk he hosted a website that traded thousands of indecent images of children across the world.

'Deviant behaviour'

Chief executive of Ceop Jim Gamble hopes that publishing these figures will deter those thinking of looking online for child abuse images.

"I hope offenders take note. Look at the ways in which together we are infiltrating your worlds, understanding your minds in order to limit deviant behaviour and I hope you think again," Mr Gamble said.

"If you are abusing children then we will track you down."

In another part of the Ceop offices staff work on education programmes.

So far, 1.7million schoolchildren in the UK have been reached by the "Think U Know" campaign aimed at helping them stay safe online, and ensuring they know who to talk to if they fear they are being stalked.

Some 11,000 teachers, parents and carers have also been given specialist training to help them make children more aware of the risks posed online by sex offenders.


SEE ALSO
Team focuses on web paedophiles
02 Mar 08 |  England
When online friends spell danger
22 Oct 07 |  Education

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