Feeds

Operation Ore was based on flawed evidence from the start

Cops raised concerns ahead of national meeting in 2003

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Exclusive Britain’s biggest ever computer crime investigation, Operation Ore, was flawed by a catalogue of “discrepancies, errors and uncertainties”, disclosed reports of two national police conferences seen by The Register reveal.

The police memoranda show that within months of the operation launching in April 2002, detectives who forensically examined computers taken from suspects' homes in dawn raids found files showing that the main evidence used in Operation Ore was wrong. The evidence, it was claimed, showed that over 7,000 British-based subscribers had purchased access to child pornography websites.

At a national police conference held in a Pimlico hotel in February 2003, local police forces warned that claims made by the National Crime Squad (NCS), in control of the operation, had gone "pear-shaped".

According to a former detective inspector and computer forensic specialist who led an Operation Ore team in the north of England, police forces throughout the UK had been "assured from the outset" that it was not possible to subscribe to websites run by a Texas web gateway company, Landslide Inc, without clicking on and agreeing to a "Click Here Child Porn" banner on the "the home page of Landslide.com".

The NCS, he said in a report of the February meeting, were adamant that "it was not possible to enter any websites through the Landslide gateway without going through this procedure and making deliberate choices".

But after examining seized computers and looking at browser history records, two UK police forces told the meeting that the files found showed that "it was possible to ... pay for material ... without making any choices at all and without any warnings that paedophile material was available."

The forensic specialist added: "This has thrown the whole issue of incitement charges into question... I am of the opinion that in those cases where no images have been found ... there is insufficient evidence to proceed ... The NCS and CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] are looking at these issues as a matter of urgency and will be sending out advice in due course," he reported.

At a second meeting in Birmingham in March 2003, NCS retracted two claims it had made about child porn websites. The former DI alerted senior officers and colleagues that "this has serious implications ... [It] is yet another weakness in the NCS investigation which has only just come to light, with obvious consequences. I have serious doubts about the quality and integrity of the evidence supplied by the NCS and will be raising these concerns in the relevant quarter."

Former Merseyside police officer Peter Johnston said he was also concerned about claims in Operation Ore. "I ... asked ... can we have the evidence, can we see the credit card details, can we see the statements ... from the people who recovered this?”

Johnson's requests were turned down, he told ITN in a broadcast interview. He was told "it wasn’t relevant ... we have 7,500 people here ... they must be guilty, let's get out there and get them locked up".

No investigations took place. No advice was sent to police forces about the flaws in the "Click Here Child Porn" claim. Although the real front page of the Landslide website was included in an obscure part of the evidence bundle, it was described as a "front screen" while the fake front page was highlighted and described as the "front page". This sleight of hand meant that the false "front page" was always referred to at the start of court cases, thus purporting to prove that subscribers could only subscribe to Landslide sites for illegal purposes.

CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection), a quasi policy agency, took over Operation Ore in 2006. The Home Office has announced that CEOP will be disbanded later this year.

The former director of CEOP who presided over Operation Ore, James Gamble, retired in October 2010 after disputes with Home Secretary Teresa May, which continue.

Operation Ore police raids continued until 2008. It was not until 2010 that CEOP computer expert Dr Nick Sharples testified in an appeal case that subscribers to Landslide websites could not have seen the "Click Here Child Porn" banner and that it was not part of the Landslide website.

CEOP has refused to comment on his evidence, claiming to The Register that a transcript "should be available" on the internet. It isn't. CEOP said: "We will not be making any further comments on this operation or its various investigations unless required to do so by a court of law or a law enforcement organisation."

The CPS told The Register that it could not provide any record that the mistake had been investigated or corrected.

Business security measures using SSL

More from The Register

next story
Hey, Scots. Microsoft's Bing thinks you'll vote NO to independence
World's top Google-finding website calls it for the UK
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
OECD lashes out at tax avoiding globocorps' location-flipping antics
You hear that, Amazon, Google, Microsoft et al?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.