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A routine visit to a registered sex offender in Northamptonshire has led to the uncovering of a global child abuse ring.

An organised crime group centred in the Philippines arranged for children to be sexually abused live on webcam in exchange for payment. Some of the facilitators were reportedly members of the children’s own families.

The network was taken down after a joint investigation by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), the Australian Federal Police and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Operation Endeavour, which began in 2012, resulted 29 arrests in 12 countries worldwide.

A total of 15 children in the Philippines aged between six and 15 have been identified and safeguarded from sexual abuse, say the authorities. Eleven suspects from the south-east Asian countries have been arrested.

Within the UK there have been 17 arrests which resulted in five convictions to date, with nine investigations still ongoing. The UK customer base had paid over £5,351 to the crime group, which investigators reckon raked in more than £37,000 through their twisted business.

The investigation began after Northamptonshire Police carried out a routine visit at the home of a registered sex offender, discovering a number of indecent videos on computers. Computer forensics and a preliminary police investigation led to the identification of additional suspects and numerous children in the Philippines who were believed to have been sexually exploited.

NCA worked with its partners in Australia and the US before presenting a dossier on the joint investigation to the Philippine National Police. All parties were involved in efforts to identify the offenders and victims in the Philippines.

In one chat log, a convicted abuser, who uses a wheelchair, suggested to another UK suspect also jailed as a resulted of Operation Endeavour that he could act as his carer so they could travel to the Philippines together and abuse children directly without attracting suspicion.

In addition to Operation Endeavour, three other separate investigations are currently ongoing into the live streaming of child sexual abuse, which have already identified 733 suspects: 139 of these in the UK and 594 overseas. One investigation is being led by the National Crime Agency’s CEOP (‪Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre‬) command and the other two involve UK police forces.

The use of web cams to stream live abuse, particularly from the developing world, is a significant and emerging threat according to CEOP. Extreme poverty, the increasing availability of high speed internet and the existence of a vast and comparatively wealthy overseas customer base has led to organised crime groups exploiting children for profit.

In a statement, Andy Baker, deputy director of the NCA’s CEOP command, 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," he added. ®

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