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Eight Scots convicted of child abuse charges

Broken computer revealed conspiracy

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Eight Scottish men have been convicted of various charges relating to child sexual abuse and conspiracy.

The initial investigation began after one of the men took his computer in for repair in April 2007. Staff found images of a naked 11-year-old boy and informed police. Investigations found 7,000 more images on the machine as well as records of chat room and instant messenger conversations with other men about abusing children.

This began the uncovering of a large online conspiracy. Many were trusted members of the community and included an ex-teacher, a babysitter and youth worker and a Church of Scotland elder. They discussed the abuse of children in chat rooms and swapped images. About 125,000 encrypted images were found by police.

The families were unaware of what had happened to their children until they were shown images of the abuse. The horror was compounded because defendant Neil Strachan is HIV positive, and several abused children had to be tested.

The eight convicted were Neil Strachan, 41, James Rennie, 38, Colin Slaven, 23, from Edinburgh, Neil Campbell, 46, John Milligan, 40, and John Murphy, 44 - all from Glasgow - Ross Webber, 27, from North Berwick in East Lothian, and Craig Boath, 24, from Dundee. None were known to the police with the exception of Strachan, who had previous child abuse convictions.

Detective Superintendent Allan Jones of Lothian and Borders Police said it was the largest paedophile network ever broken in Scotland. He thanked the other agencies, companies and experts who had helped with the case.

Jones said: "The internet is an integral part of our daily lives but those who seek to use it for criminal purposes should be warned that it is not as anonymous as they may think. They leave a digital footprint which law enforcement will follow and hold them to account."

A key piece of evidence was a picture of Strachan, described as the 'Hogmanay image', showing him abusing an 18-month-old baby. The child's father declined to see the image when contacted by police, the BBC reports. Strachan and Rennie took a central role in the abuse and in distributing images and video.

The probe, known as Operation Algebra, is far from over - another 70 names have been passed to other police forces around the world and 35 have already been arrested.

Assistance from Microsoft was also essential in uncovering the true identity of "kplover99" - which stood for kiddie porn lover. This email was tracked back to James Rennie. Police also tracked Wi-Fi signals in Edinburgh.

The eight men will be sentenced next month. The judge is seeking a risk assessment for ringleaders Strachan and Rennie, which could allow him to impose a minimum term of imprisonment for the two - or to imprison them until they are no longer considered a risk. ®

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