A paedophile ring which originated in Kettering and which streamed live child abuse over the internet from the Philippines has been closed down.
Operation Endeavour, a joint operation by police forces in Britain, Australia and the US which began in 2012, has resulted in 29 international arrests.
Eleven of these were part of the facilitation group in the Philippines, and 12 countries were involved in the arrest of individuals who had been paying for the live abuse of children.
Fifteen children in the Philippines aged six to 15 have been identified and safeguarded from sexual abuse, say officers, and more than £37,500 has been identified as having been paid for the live abuse of children by ‘customers’.
The crime group arranged for children to be sexually abused live on webcam in exchange for payment. Some of the facilitators were members of the children’s own families.
Within the UK there have been 17 arrests which resulted in five convictions and nine ongoing investigations.
One arrest required no further action and two individuals are now deceased.
The UK ‘customer base’ had paid more than £5,351 to the crime group.
The investigation began after Northamptonshire Police carried out a routine visit at the Kettering home of registered sex offender Timothy Ford and found a number of indecent videos on computers in the property.
The force then contacted CEOP and, after working together, a number of ‘customers’ and associates were identified and a global law enforcement investigation commenced.
One of the UK ‘customers’ already convicted under Operation Endeavour is Timothy Ford, who was sentenced in March 2013 to eight-and-a-half years in prison.
Ford was paying for the live abuse of children and planned to move to the Philippines to set up an internet café.
Investigations into his activities and the wider customer network he was associated with identified other suspects including Thomas Owen, who was sentenced in July 2013 to seven years in prison.
Owen was in possession of nearly four million indecent images of children when he was arrested.
Evidence showed Ford and Owen discussing online how they could travel to the Philippines to carry out contact abuse of children.
In one chat log wheelchair user Ford, of Burghley Street, Kettering, suggested that Owen could act as his carer so they could travel to the Philippines together in an attempt to avoid detection.
The use of webcams to stream live abuse, particularly from the developing world, is a significant and emerging threat according to the NCA’s CEOP command.
Extreme poverty, the increasing availability of high speed internet and the existence of a vast and comparatively wealthy overseas customer base has led to organised crime groups exploiting children for financial gain.
Deputy director of the NCA’s CEOP command Andy Baker said: “This investigation has identified some extremely dangerous child sexual offenders who believed paying for children to be abused to order was something they could get away with.
“Being thousands of miles away makes no difference to their guilt.
“In my mind they are just as responsible for the abuse of these children as the contact abusers overseas.
“Protecting the victims of abuse is our priority and that means attacking every link in the chain, from dismantling the organised groups who are motivated by profit through to targeting their customers.
“This kind of end-to-end operation is only possible when law enforcement agencies work together.
“The NCA has valuable international partners, including the Philippine National Police and the International Justice Mission (IJM), to not only share information and intelligence, but ensure abused and exploited children are identified and safeguarded from harm”.
AFP assistant commissioner Tim Morris said he is committed to taking all necessary action to protect children in Australia and internationally from sexual exploitation.
He said: “Every day, AFP officers work with state and international counterparts to combat child sexual exploitation and to bring offenders to justice.”
“The use of online media to drive these types crimes is a sinister development.
“To target the most vulnerable members of the community in this way cannot be tolerated in any society.
“It’s abhorrent that these crimes occur and it is our duty as police and the wider community to ensure that every possible measure is taken to identify and assist the victims and to identify and take action against the perpetrators.”