Child porn ring smashed

Seven plead guilty

Seven men pleaded guilty today to conspiring with others to distribute indecent images of children.

The men - who appeared at Kingston Crown Court - admitted their part in a global paedophile ring which distributed a sickening haul of kiddie porn.

Some 750,000 images and more than 1,800 computerised videos depicting children being sexually abused were netted as part of the haul.

The men were arrested as part of the largest ever worldwide criminal investigation - code named Operation Cathedral - which led to the arrest of more than 100 men suspected of belonging to an Internet paedophile ring.

Three of the men appearing at Kinston Crown Court today were computer consultants.

The seven men are: Ian Baldock, 31, a computer consultant from St Leonards, East Sussex; David Hines, 30, unemployed of Bognor Regis, West Sussex; Antoni Skinner, 36, a computer consultant from Cheltenham, Gloucester; Ahmed Ali, 30, a taxi driver from Tulse Hill, London; Andrew John Barlow, 25, unemployed, of Bletchley, Milton Keynes; Frederick Paul Stephens, 46, a taxi driver from Hayes, Middlesex; and Gavin Morris Seagers, 29, a computer consultant, from Dartford in Kent.

All seven have been bailed until sentencing on February 12 and 13.

An eighth man, Steven Ellis, 40, from Norwich in Norfolk, was also charged, but committed suicide on January 21 1999.

Another computer consultant, David Chaiken, 36, from Maidenhead in Berkshire, was charged separately with possession and distribution of indecent images of children. He was convicted at Reading Crown Court on June 11 1999. He was sentenced to eight months imprisonment and will be on the sex offenders' register for ten years.

Operation Cathedral began in September 1998 with simultaneous raids in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the USA.

In the UK, 15 addresses were searched, leading to the arrests of 12 men in England and one in Scotland.

Bob Packham, deputy director general of the National Crime Squad, praised his officers' handling of a "delicate" case.

He said that while the case showed that the Internet can be misused: "It also demonstrates that national agencies such as ours have the ability to take on large scale enquiries of this kind - whether it be paedophilia, drugs, or any other type of serious and organised criminality."

Meanwhile, Linda Harrison reports, a British cop has been arrested after thousands of child porn pictures were found on a computer.

According to UK tabloid The Sun, the images were discovered by anti-corruption officers as they investigated DC Kim Weston as part of another inquiry.

Sources said the porn seemed to have been downloaded from the Net, and contained images of children as young as two-years-old.

"It shocked a lot of people," one source added.

Weston, based at Wandsworth police station, South London, was under investigation for allegedly trying to destroy a sex assault allegation against a colleague.

The 43-year-old has been suspended and freed on police bail. ®

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