More arrests in child porn sweep

Rumors fly in Britain

officials among suspects

January 15, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - The list includes police officers and dentists, judges and politicians, lawyers, teachers and social workers, and, as of Monday, the guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who. In all, more than 1,300 people have been arrested in Britain in the past 10 months as part of Operation Ore, a nationwide hunt for users of child Internet pornography.

Townshend was taken into custody on Monday, questioned and then released without being charged. Police in London seized computers and other material from his house and said they planned to interview him again. Townshend, who says he suspects he was abused as a child, said he had viewed child pornography on the Internet while researching his autobiography and as part of his longtime campaign against child abuse. He denied having downloaded pornography from the Internet.

Townshend is merely the person with the highest profile among those detained in the sweep, in which some 7,200 Britons are under suspicion.

Yesterday, authorities arrested Yusuf Azad, a civil servant who works for the London Assembly, overseeing the office of the mayor of London. In Oxfordshire, according to Channel 4 News, Terry McClaren, deputy governor of Bullingdon prison, which houses convicted sex offenders, was also detained.

Azad was released without being charged, pending further investigation, and computers and other materials were seized from his home. Officials at Bullingdon prison refused to comment on McClaren's status.

Rumors swirled of imminent arrests, with at least two current or former members of Parliament among those mentioned. The suspects are accused of accessing and downloading sexually explicit photographs of children, some as young as 5, from Web sites between 1997 and 1999.

Possession of child pornography, including downloading images to a computer, is illegal in Britain, as in the United States.

Subscribers to the sites paid $29.95 a month per site to view files with names such as "Child Rape," "I Am Fourteen" and "Russian Underage." The sites contained hard-core pornographic images and would have been impossible to stumble upon by chance, said Jackie Bennett, a spokeswoman for the National Crime Squad, which investigates serious crime in Britain.

"You would have to make a decision to subscribe to the Web site and purchase the images," Bennett said.

The suspects' names were passed to the British authorities by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, whose investigation of an Internet pornography empire based in Texas led to the arrest in December 1999 of its proprietors, Janice and Thomas Reedy. The Reedys, whose now-defunct company, Landslide Productions, took in millions of dollars from subscription fees, provided their customers with access to thousands of pedophile Web sites.

Both were convicted of offenses that included sexual exploitation of minors, distribution of child pornography and conspiracy. Their pornography ring threw up a wealth of information to investigators, who found details about 310,000 subscribers in dozens of countries.

Law enforcement officials said those being investigated in Britain were believed to have logged on to the sites for significant periods, rather than having simply paid the fee and then logged off.

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