BBC News, 16 March 2011
Police from around the world say they have broken up the largest internet paedophile ring yet discovered.
|Smashed: International network operating|
out of Holland
Rob Wainwright, head of Europol, the European Police Agency, said the abuse network had 70,000 members and links to 30 countries.
The operation has identified 670 suspects and 230 abused children.
Detectives say 170 people have so far been arrested - and 121 of them were in the UK. Some 60 children have been protected in the UK.
Speaking at a press conference at The Hague in the Netherlands, Mr Wainwright said the three-year investigation, Operation Rescue, involved infiltrating an online network.
The network hid behind a legal online forum which operated out of the Netherlands - but its members came from around the world.
Along with the Netherlands and UK, suspects have been identified in Australia, Italy, Canada and Thailand.
The members of the network went into a private channel, boylover.net, and then used its secret systems to share films and images of abused children, said Mr Wainwright.
However, child abuse investigators, including a team from the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, had already infiltrated the network and were posing as paedophiles to gather intelligence.
In the UK, the 240 suspects are aged between 17 and 82 years old. They include police officers, youth leaders and teachers.
'New ground broken'
Peter Davies, head of Ceop, said: "The scale and success of Operation Rescue has broken new ground.
|Peter Davies: Ceop's biggest success to date|
"Not only is it one of the largest operation of its kind to date - and the biggest operation we have lead - it also demonstrates the impact of international law enforcement agencies working together with one single objective - to safeguard children and bring offenders to justice.
"While these offenders felt anonymous in some way because they were using the internet to communicate, the technology was actually being used against them.
"Everything they did online, everyone they talked to or anything they shared could and was tracked by following the digital footprint."
Mr Wainwright said: "I am proud of the exceptional work of our experts in helping police authorities around the world to record these groundbreaking results.
"The safeguarding of so many vulnerable children is particularly rewarding and demonstrates the commitment of our agency to make Europe a safer place for its citizens.
"I also pay tribute to the relevant authorities in Europe and elsewhere for their operational work in tracking down the suspected criminals and their victims."