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UK police tackle mounting internet porn caseload

Computer forensics units take the strain

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British police are refining their crackdown on internet paedophiles as a swelling caseload of offences involving the downloading of images of child abuse pushes computer forensics teams to their limits.

According to police sources over 300 people a month are still being referred to special police paedophile units. This is despite the success of 'Operation Ore' which led to the names of 7,272 suspects being passed to forces in the UK after US police broke up a paedophile website operation.

In the wake of Operation Ore, UK police have so far carried out 4,283 searches and made 3,744 arrests, while 35 of those caught up in the investigation have committed suicide. The police have committed themselves to investigating every case.

But there are still 800 investigations pending, and police forces around the country are groaning under the strain of investigating them.

This has left some police computer forensic departments with backlogs ranging between nine and 18 months and prevented them from working on other non-paedophile cases. Forces in South Wales and the North West have been particularly badly hit, with one force turning away further computer-related cases until it has dealt with its backlog.

The scale of the problem has led to a campaign headed up by the National Crime Squad, the UK's version of the FBI to stamp out easy access to paedophile websites and to prosecute and seize the assets of the people behind them.

According to Jim Gamble, deputy director of the National Crime Squad and head of the Virtual Global Taskforce, the multi-national organisation tasked with policing the internet launched earlier this year, over 55 per cent of paedophile websites are now run as commercial operations with significant involvement from organised crime.

"Over the last two years the opportunities for crime have grown and it is only in the last year that the police have started to occupy this space.

"With those people trying to make money from this we have already started targeting their websites and we are following where the money goes. We are working systematically to identify and rescue children involved, have these people prosecuted in the countries that they are operating from and to seize their houses and their funds."

The initiative is part of a three-pronged approach of identification, elimination and deterrence.

Already the VGTF website provides a one-stop shop for the reporting of suspicious websites and approaches from individuals, and the next stage is the development of a series of partnerships with companies ranging from AOL, BT, Microsoft and Vodafone.

The companies have all agreed to work to filter paedophile content from the web using a list of illegal websites collected by the UK Government- backed Internet Watch Foundation.

Gamble is also working to bring smaller internet companies into the initiative.

Up till now they have claimed they cannot afford the £1m a year BT is rumoured to spending to filter its network but one new company Streamshield, has now developed a product that filters out websites blacklisted by the IWF for a one off cost of around £60,000. This represents a total cost of £5m between the UK's 92 internet companies, or 50p per child in the country.

And in a final twist to the crackdown the police are creating fake paedophile websites known as 'honey-traps' aimed at catching casual requests for paedophile websites.

People logging on think they have found a pervert’s website but when they try and download an image they are told that they have attempted to commit a crime, their details have been logged and they may be prosecuted.

"We're raising awareness that we are out there, and that the internet is not a lawless place. As the result of the operations that we've been mounting we've now had people turning themselves in to police stations,” said Gamble

"The awareness that we're out there is increasing because we've even had people reporting themselves for being on our website when it hasn't been up but they think they've been on it, while in reality they have been on real paedophile sites."

Further details from Future Intelligence here

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