MANILA – A paedophile ring that streamed live child abuse from the Philippines over the internet has been broken up after an operation by UK police and their counterparts in Australia and the US.
Three Australians have been arrested for allegedly paying an international crime group to arrange live webcam shows of children being abused in the Philippines.
Sydney man, Ian Potterton, 52, and two men from Perth are among 29 people arrested in 12 countries following the investigation that involved Britain’s National Crime Agency, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Australian Federal Police.
Eleven of those arrested have been charged with being part of the group that arranged for children, aged between six and 15, to be sexually abused live on webcam in exchange for payment.
Police said 15 children had been identified as victims and removed from harm. Some of the facilitators of the abuse were members of the children’s own families, police said.
“The use of online media to drive these types crimes is a sinister development,” federal police Assistant Commissioner Tim Morris said. “To target the most vulnerable members of the community in this way cannot be tolerated in any society.”
The Australians have been in custody throughout the investigation, which has been going on for more than 18 months and has sparked searches at six Australian addresses linked to the men. Hundreds of thousands of images and videos, depicting online child sexual exploitation of victims as young as five, were allegedly found.
Police allege the Australians were “financing and ordering” the child exploitation shows from the group.
The investigation was sparked after Northamptonshire police in Britain carried out a routine visit at the home of a registered sex offender in 2012 and found a number of indecent videos on computers in the property.
Analysis of the computers and the material led investigators to identify a number of customers and associates and a global law-enforcement investigation commenced.
“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,” Andy Baker, the deputy director Britain’s National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, said.
“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 abusers overseas,” he said.
Within Britain, 17 people have been arrested and three separate investigations launched into other live streaming syndicates. Those subsequent investigations have already identified 733 suspects including 594 from overseas.
Suspects have been identified in Australia, the US, France, Germany, Canada, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Taiwan, Denmark and Switzerland.
Mr Potterton was arrested in Bangkok by the Royal Thai Police trying to board a flight back to Sydney after a two-week holiday. He is before the courts in Thailand.
The two men from Perth, aged 52 and 53, have both been convicted in Western Australia courts and one is serving a 24-month jail sentence. The second man will be sentenced later this month.
Deputy Director Andy Baker of the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) 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.”