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Dozens arrested as child-abuse ring is 'dismantled' in international investigation

A major pedophile ring has been smashed in a joint operation involving UK, US and Australian investigators. A Philippine-based gang allegedly charged money to stream children being abused live on the Internet.

Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) said in a statement posted on its website on Thursday that those arrested included both those accused of organizing the live streaming of child abuse via the Internet and those who paid to view it.

The investigation began in Britain in 2012 when police in Northamptonshire conducted a routine visit to the home of registered sex offender Timothy Ford in 2012. During that visit, Northamptonshire Police found a number of indecent videos on Ford's computer, which led to its seizure. He was later sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in jail for paying to watch live sex abuse.

The information found on Ford's computer helped police identify a number of other "customers," which led them to broaden their investigation, dubbed Operation Endeavor, also involving the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and US Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE).

The NCA said 11 suspects, all Philippine nationals suspected of facilitating the abuse and streaming were arrested by the Philippine National Police in October 2012. Fifteen victims between the ages of six and 15 were rescued as part of that operation and placed in the care of a government social agency. Some of the alleged facilitators were members of the victims' own families.

Arrests have also been made in 11 other countries, including Britain, where a total of 17 have been detained. Of the 17 UK suspects, five have already been convicted.

Abuse to order

"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," Andy Baker, the deputy director of the NCA's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command said.

"Being thousands of miles away makes no difference to their guilt. Protecting the victims of abuse is our priority and that means attacking every link in the chain, from dismantling the organized groups who are motivated by profit through to targeting their customers," he added.

While the NCA said this particular child-abuse ring had been "dismantled," it also said three other investigations into the live streaming of child sexual abuse were ongoing, in which investigators had identified 733 suspects, including 139 in Britain.

"The use of webcams to stream live abuse, particularly from the developing world, is a significant and emerging threat," the NCA statement said.

pfd/hc (dpa, AFP)