British police, alongside US and Australian investigators, smash an international paedophile ring that streamed child abuse live from the Philippines.
The investigation, Operation Endeavour, has led to the arrest of 17 British “customers”, as well as 29 other international arrests – including 11 people who facilitated the abuse in the Philippines.
Three separate investigations into the live streaming of child abuse, all a part of Endeavour, have identified 733 suspects including 139 Britons.
Fifteen children in the Philippines, aged between six and 15, have been rescued after being identified as victims of the abuse.
The operation, which spans 12 countries, is focused on what the National Crime Agency calls “a significant and emerging threat”.
Andy Baker, deputy director of the National Crime Agency’s CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) 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.”
Of the 17 Britons arrested five have been convicted, nine investigations are ongoing, one required no further action and two individuals are dead. The National Crime Agency said UK customers had paid over £5,000 to watch child abuse.
The investigation began after Northamptonshire police carried out a routine visit to the home of a registered sex offender, Timothy Ford, and found a number of indecent videos on computers.
Investigations into his activities led to the identification of other suspects. Ford, one of the men convicted under Operation Endeavour, was paying to watch the live abuse of children and planned to move to the Philippines to set up an internet cafe.
Another person convicted as a part of Operation Endeavour was Thomas Owen. Owen was convicted in July 2013 after police found four million indecent images of children in his possession. Ford and Owen had talked online and were planning to go to the Philippines together.
“The use of online media to drive these types of crime is a sinister development,” Tim Morris, assistant commissioner of Australia’s Federal Police, said.
“To target the most vulnerable members of the community in this way cannot be tolerated by any society.”
In a statement, the National Crime Agency said: “The use of webcams to stream live abuse, particularly from the developing world, is a significant and emerging threat according to the NCA’s command.
“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 financial gain.”