Page last updated at 16:24 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 17:24 UK

Single image uncovered abuse network

The eight accused
The accused were (top, left to right) Colin Slaven, Craig Boath, James Rennie, John Milligan, (bottom, left to right) John Murphy, Neil Strachan, Ross Webber and Neil Campbell

By James Cook
BBC Scotland news

Eight men have been convicted after police smashed what they say was Scotland's biggest known paedophile network.

The verdicts were the culmination of a police investigation which began with a single image: an indecent photograph of a little boy on a computer sent in for repair.

The computer belonged to Neil Strachan, 41, a paint company engineer who worked for a firm at the Crown Decorator Centre in Edinburgh.

It had a rogue hard-drive slotted in the back, and when a repair technician began work he was confronted by the image of the naked 11-year-old boy.

The discovery - which proved to be one of more than 7,000 indecent images - prompted Lothian and Borders Police to launch Operation Algebra, an inquiry that would eventually unmask scores of paedophiles in a network stretching around the world.

At the heart of that network were Strachan and his co-accused James Rennie.

It's a spider's web of a network and intricate contacts
Det Supt Allan Jones
Lothian and Borders Police

Rennie, 38, was the chief executive of LGBT Youth Scotland, an organisation which offers advice on sexuality to young people.

The two men had recorded themselves sexually abusing children and had then used the internet to distribute the images.

Strachan, Rennie and the six other men on trial looked so normal as they sat in the dock, for the most part smartly dressed in dark suits.

The other accused were Ross Webber, 27, a bank worker from North Berwick, East Lothian; Neil Campbell, 46, a married bakery manager and church bell ringer from the affluent Glasgow suburb of Bearsden; Craig Boath, 24, an insurance claims adjuster from Dundee; John Milligan, 40, a civil servant from Glasgow; and John Murphy, 44, a trained teacher who was working as a receptionist at a gay sauna in Glasgow.

Strachan, Rennie, Webber, Campbell, Boath, Milligan and Murphy were convicted of a range of offences including possessing, taking and distributing indecent photos of children.

Global links

Colin Slaven, 23, an IT worker from Edinburgh, who was Strachan's boyfriend, was convicted of offences relating to indecent photos of children.

Strachan, Rennie, Webber, Boath and Milligan were convicted of conspiring to meet each other to sexually abuse children.

Police say the men were part of the biggest paedophile network ever to be broken in Scotland.

Det Supt Allan Jones of Lothian and Borders Police said it had links around the globe.

"It would be foolhardy to say we caught everyone," he said.

Crown Decorator Centre in Newhaven Road
Strachan had worked at the Crown Decorator Centre

"Those that we managed to identify we have pursued and arrested and dealt with.

"However, it's a spider's web of a network and intricate contacts."

Unravelling the web took 18 months. By the time the trial began, police had seized about 125,000 still and video images.

In every one there was a victim - including three children in Edinburgh. The little boys were known in court as Child B, Child F and Child JL.

Strachan and Rennie had been trusted by the children's parents to look after them. Instead they subjected them to vile abuse.

One victim was just 18 months old when he was raped.

It's every parent's worst nightmare to find out their child has been abused and they knew nothing about it
Det Supt Allan Jones
Lothian and Borders Police

The families of the children were in court during the trial.

Det Supt Jones said it was impossible to imagine what they had been through.

"The impact on the families has been horrendous," he said.

"It's every parent's worst nightmare to find out their child has been abused and they knew nothing about it.

"Even more daunting is the fact that these children are not able to express what they've undergone."

The abuse wasn't confined to Scotland. Operation Algebra identified links to the US, Australia, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.

Tracing the culprits required help from the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), the FBI and Microsoft.

Wi-fi signals

The records from Microsoft were vital in discovering the true identity of "Kenny Plover", whose e-mail address "kplover99" stood for "kiddie porn lover".

Knowing the e-mail account had been accessed from the offices of LGBT Youth Scotland was one piece in the jigsaw.

Another was the use of sophisticated radio equipment to track down broadband wi-fi signals in the Meadowbank area of Edinburgh.

The "kiddie porn lover" was Rennie, who had also received a photo of the 18-month-old being abused on Hogmanay.

It was sent from someone calling himself Mark, who said in the e-mail that he was the man in the picture.

Suspected paedophiles

A world expert in identification, Professor Susan Black of Dundee University, said a thumbnail visible in the Hogmanay abuse picture probably belonged to Strachan.

A raid on his home in Dalry, Edinburgh, led to charges against his young boyfriend Colin Slaven, from Kirkcaldy. Five other men found themselves in the dock as a result of the police investigation.

Lothian and Borders Police said their inquiry had led to the identification of more than 200 suspected paedophiles internationally and at least 70 in the UK.

Detectives say there are suspects in Scotland; Avon and Somerset; Devon and Cornwall; Merseyside; South Wales; West Midlands; Sussex; Essex; London; Thames Valley; and Hampshire.

Of those suspects, 35 have already been arrested and action is being taken against many of the others.

A single image of one little boy may have saved many more children from a similar, horrific fate.

Total - 70 targets identified to date.
Avon and Somerset 2 accused identified and charged in Bristol
Metropolitan Police 3 targets identified in London
Greater Manchester Police 2 targets identified in Manchester
West Yorkshire Constabulary 3 targets identified in Scarborough, Ilkley and Driffield
Cambridgeshire Police 1 target identified in Chatteris
Surrey Police 1 target identified in Croydon
Sussex Police 4 targets identified in Gosport, Bexhill-on-Sea, Worthing and Brighton - 1 accused charged to date
North Yorks Police 1 target identified in Huddersfield.
Devon and Cornwall 3 targets identified in Newquay and Plymouth
Thames Valley Police 2 targets identified in Reading and Newport Pagnell
Merseyside Police 1 accused identified and charged in Liverpool
Hampshire Police 1 target identified in Fareham
Essex Police 1 target identified in Basildon
West Midlands Police 1 target identified in Birmingham.
Northumbria Police 1 accused identified and charged in Sunderland.
Lincolnshire Police 1 accused identified and charged in Spilsby.
Staffordshire 2 targets identified in Stoke-on-Trent
Lancashire 1 target identified in Darwen
Strathclyde 13 targets identified in Glasgow, Motherwell, Paisley, Dumbarton, Cambuslang and Larkhall. 7 accused charged to date
Lothian and Borders 3 targets identified in Edinburgh and Livingston. 2 accused charged to date
Central Scotland Police 1 accused identified and charged in Alloa.
Tayside 2 targets identified in Dundee.
Grampian 1 target identified in Aberdeen
Northern 1 target identified in Inverness area.
Dumfries and Galloway 1 target identified in Dumfries.
Northern Ireland
PSNI 1 target identified in Northern Ireland
United States of America 2 targets identified. 1 accused charged
Netherlands 1 target identified. 1 accused charged

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