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Internet child porn gang jailed

Internet child porn gang jailed

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International police hunt

'Many still in denial'

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LONDON, England -- Seven British men involved in what is believed to have been the world's biggest Internet paedophile ring have escaped maximum prison sentences.

The men faced jail terms of up to three years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute indecent images of children, but the lengthiest term meted out at Kingston Crown Court was 30 months.

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The men, all members of the Wonderland Club -- an international ring of 180 paedophiles -- had admitted swapping thousands of photos of children and even babies.

Addressing the seven defendants, who stood impassively in the dock on Tuesday, Judge Kenneth Macrae condemned them for having "pandered to the basest interests of man."

"You used your computer skills to commit crimes decent people find unimaginable. Whether directly or indirectly you exploited the most vulnerable."

But Judge Macrae told the men that they would have to be given credit for pleading guilty, with sentences ranging from 12 to 30 months.

He said they would have to serve half of their sentence and would remain on licence for the remainder.

International police hunt

The men were among 107 people arrested in a global police operation spread across Britain, the United States, a series of European countries and Australia.

About 750,000 pictures were seized by police, as well as a library of 1,800 computerised videos depicting children suffering sexual abuse.

David Perry QC, prosecuting, told Kingston Crown Court, south-west of London, on Monday that it was a vast Internet lending library of paedophiliac photographs.

"All of the children involved were under the age of 16 and in one case a child was only three months. In many cases the children were aged two or three years and the vast majority were under 10."

More than 1,263 children were featured, but so far only 17 had been identified -- six in the UK, seven in the United States, one in Portugal, one in Chile and one in Argentina.

British police became aware of Wonderland after detectives in the United States investigating a paedophile network found a connection with three Britons.

Eight men in Britain were charged with conspiring to distribute pornographic images over the Internet. One killed himself after he was arrested.

'Many still in denial'

Unemployed David Hines, 30, of West Sussex, was singled out by Judge Macrae as a senior operator in the ring for the whole of Europe.

Hines had previously said: "We just didn't see it as abuse. We saw it as there were some children involved in relationships."

Together with Ian Baldock, 31, an Oxford University Press computer consultant, of East Sussex, Hines was jailed for 30 months.

The pair were also placed on the sex offenders register for life because of their greater role in the gang's crimes while the others were ordered to be kept on the register for seven years.

Gavin Seagers, 29, a computer consultant and Sea Cadets youth leader, of Kent; Andrew Barlow, 25, unemployed, of Milton Keynes; and Ahmed Ali, 31, a taxi driver from south London, were sentenced to two years.

Judge Macrae branded the claim by Antoni Skinner, a computer consultant of Gloucester, that he was only recruited to the paedophile ring for his encryption skills as "implausible."

Skinner, he added, was "like so many others still in denial" about the nature and impact of his crime. He was sentenced to 18 months.

Frederick Stephens, 46, a taxi driver from west London, got 12 months.

The sentences were immediately condemned by child protection charity Kidscape.

Director Dr Michelle Elliott, said they were a "joke" which suggested the crimes were not being taken seriously.

"You would get a longer sentence for accumulating masses of parking tickets or for burglary," she said.

But the officers who led the two year investigation spoke of their "relief."

Detective Chief Inspector Alex Wood said: "The maximum the judge could have imposed was three years.

"He was working under constraints where he had to give credit for guilty pleas. On that basis sentences were as severe as we expected."

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Police crack global child porn ring
January 10, 2001
German police suspect child porn on Napster, Gnutella
January 10, 2001
Italy charges 1,500 people in child porn inquiry
October 28, 2000
White House won't fight anti-porn measures
November 1, 2000
Man arrested after paedophile TV documentary
October 31, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Internet Watch Foundation
UK Home Office

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