Please note this article is about the analytical capability of CEOP at the time Madeleine disappeared. There are quite separate posts on this blog about the technical glitch on the Wayback Machine that wrongly makes it look like CEOP knew of Madeleine’s disappearance some days prior to 3 May 2007.
CEOP was the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. It was formed in April 2006, so it had only been running for about a year when Madeleine disappeared. However, there was a predecessor called the Paedophile Online Investigation Team, making an accurate evaluation of CEOP’s capability more difficult.
CEOP was a member of the Virtual Global Taskforce, also established in 2004. Members included the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Italy, Holland, Colombia and the Philippines. Portugal was not a member directly, though Interpol and Europol were. This has already been touched on in Operation Predator (the US version), aimed at the deportation of people living in the US indulging in paedophilia and US citizens travelling abroad considered to be high risk re child sex tourism.
Operation Avalanche was a major US programme which followed on from the arrest in 1999 of Thomas and Janice Reedy for facilitating access to child porn sites. Essentially, they has a multi-million dollar business which took payments by credit card then permitted access to porn sites based overseas, splitting the sign-up fee with the distributor site. The Reedy couple thought they were immune from prosecution in the US as the distribution sites were not on US territory. In 2000, Thomas Reedy was found guilty, and after an appeal over a very long sentence, it was reduced to 180 years (one hundred and eighty).
Following the arrest of the Reedy couple, the US authorities were sitting with a massive database of users from around the world who had, allegedly, been using their credit cards to access child porn. There were several flies in the ointment. Thomas Reedy had detected major credit card fraud, and had written a system designed to block it. This was not effective, and eventually his ability to act as a gateway was revoked, due to the cost of processing dud transactions.
The Reedy database was split up by country. The US authorities launched Operation Avalanche to deal with the US side, some 35,000 users, leading eventually to 100 arrests.
The UK was sent details for 7,272 names. In the UK this programme was called Operation Ore, and it came in for some heavy criticism. 3,744 people were investigated and 1,451 were convicted.
The UK had a rather odd law, that a person could be convicted of paedophilia if a person’s card details appeared in a database containing other people who had accessed child sex material, whether such card use was fraudulent or not, and whether the card itself was used to access child sex as opposed to any other legal material. If no child porn was found in a home search, the user could be charged with incitement i.e. inciting the Reedy couple to continue providing a gateway to child porn.
A further requirement of UK standard operating procedure was that police forces were required to act quickly, to separate vulnerable children from potential paedophiles, thereby not permitting time to evaluate the database properly.
CEOP and its Chief Executive, Jim Gamble, were accused of using vague terms which do not have a recognised meaning within either child protection or law enforcement when they defended the operation. Guardian, 17 May 2007, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2007/may/17/guardianweeklytechnologysection2
If that is the background, what was CEOP getting up to in 2006, when it was formed, and in 2007, when Madeleine disappeared? Here the Wayback Machine proves to be helpful as it is possible to retrieve CEOP press releases from that period. The URL needed is the old CEOP one , http://www.ceop.gov.uk, and the press releases are at http://www.ceop.gov.uk/press_releases.html
24 Apr 2006 New CEOP Centre will be the most significant development in child protection to date
22 Jun 2006 Website snares its first online grooming offender. Lee Costi became the first person convicted in the UK after there was an accusation raised via CEOP/VGT
03 Jul 2006 Social Networking Sites Under The Spotlight. The growing use of social networks re paedophilia.
25 Jul 2016 Thousands of child sex abuse images taken offline as eastern European crime gang arrested in dawn raids. Dawn raids in five UK police regions have this morning seen the arrest of 13 men and women all suspected of being connected with pay-per-view websites offering images of child sex abuse. (Judging by full release, this was a gang of eastern Europeans operating in the UK rather than a joint international effort.)
17 Nov 2006 CEOP launches first national website to track child sex offenders. This was based on the success of Crimestoppers Most Wanted. The CEOP version would feature details of child sex offenders in breach of their notification requirements. None of these offenders was linked to the Algarve.
29 Dec 2006 Child sex offender details posted on Most Wanted website. CEOP Centre posts its sixth most wanted convicted offender after 4 of the first 5 offenders are located.
03 May 2007 Keep up to date with the nation’s ‘Most Wanted’. The public can now keep track of convicted child sex offenders who go missing thanks to a new facility launched by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and independent charity Crimestoppers.
09 May 2007 Disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Web Appeal for Information. Portuguese Police have extended a web based plea for information following the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
“The latest appeal has been issued by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) at the request of the Portuguese authorities.
The appeal is sited at http://www.ceop.gov.uk and http://www.virtualglobaltaskforce.com. It appears in English, Portuguese and Spanish and urges people to come forward with any information that could help police find the missing youngster.
Both sites receive extensive daily hits from browsers in more than 130 different countries. It is hoped the move will help extend the reach of the appeal to as many people as possible, including holiday goers who may have recently returned from Portugal, or be intending to visit.
Any information should be passed to directly to the Portuguese police on 00 351 282 405 400.
Two forensic behavioural analysts from the CEOP Centre have been assisting with this inquiry. They have been made available to the authorities to ensure they have the full range of expertise available for every possible avenue of investigation.”
(This is the one and only press release I can find on CEOP about Madeleine McCann.)
18 Jun 2007 Global Online Child Abuse Network Smashed – CEOP lead international operation into UK based paedophile ring
“An online trading ground for indecent images of children and live exchanges of abuse has collapsed following an international operation led by the CEOP Centre.
The last 10 months of this complex investigation has resulted in the co-ordination of law enforcement agencies from 35 different countries and their subsequent, ongoing investigations – intelligence from which indicates that there were more than 700 suspects worldwide. The UK branch of the investigation centres around 200 suspects, the majority of which are currently subject to active police enquiries at this time. Further information can not be released until these enquiries have concluded.
To date, the international operation has led to 31 children being rescued from abuse or positions of harm.
‘Kids the Light of Our Lives’ was an Internet chat room dedicated to the sexual exploitation of children. Hundreds of members worldwide used it to trade a range of material, including photographs and videos of children being subjected to sexual abuse and serious sexual assault.
The man behind the network has been convicted at Ipswich Crown Court and now awaits sentence.
27 year old Timothy David Martyn Cox hosted the website from his home address in Buxhall, masquerading behind the online identity ‘Son_of_god.’ When trading, he used the name ‘I_do_it’.
Cox was identified after intelligence linking the chat room to the UK was passed to the CEOP Centre by Canadian partners within the Virtual Global Taskforce last August.
On receiving this information, specialist officers immediately began enquiries to trace the host, using a range of techniques and undercover online activity. Cox was located and subsequently arrested by officers from Suffolk Constabulary on September 28 2006. This allowed uncover officers from the CEOP Centre to infiltrate the room and gather valuable evidence.
Over a period of ten days, officers from the CEOP Centre and Toronto Police conducted online surveillance. They were able to identify further suspects and secure vital information regarding potential victims, before closing down the site.
When Suffolk forensic teams examined Cox’s computer they found 75,960 indecent and explicit images in addition to evidence that he had supplied 11,491 images to other site users.
Cox was subsequently charged with 9 offences, relating to the Possession and Distribution of Indecent Images of Children.
In September last year, Gordon Mackintosh from Hertfordshire also became a key subject in the UK inquiry. The 33 year old attempted to resurrect ‘Kids the Light of our Lives’ following the Cox’s disappearance as host. Officers from the CEOP Centre carried out extensive work to identify and locate the individual behind the usernames ‘silentblackheart and ‘lust4skoolgurls’. Alongside Hertfordshire Police, they arrested Mackintosh on January 9th 2007.
CEOP officers, alongside VGT partners from the Australian Federal Police, ICE (US Department of Homeland Security) and Toronto Police undertook 24 hour online surveillance to infiltrate the room for a second time and collate details of all the offenders attempting to trade material.
McIntosh’s computer was found to contain 5,167 indecent and explicit images of children, in addition to 392 indecent movie files. He pleaded guilty to 27 charges of making, possessing and distributing indecent images and movies. He awaits sentence.”
30 Oct 2007 British man arrested in Thailand on child sexual abuse offences
“A 39 year old British man has been arrested in Thailand today following a joint operation by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and the Royal Thai Police (RTP).
The man was arrested for offences including transmission of obscene material and malicious internet use.
The arrest forms part of an ongoing investigation initiated when in 2003 the man breached his notification requirements under the sex offenders register. Intelligence reports received in August 2007 indicated that the man had fled to Thailand and may be a risk to children.
CEOP’s Overseas Tracker Team picked up the case and a joint operation was launched alongside the Royal Thai Police – one of a number of collaborative programmes currently running in partnership with the RTP to deter and prevent British nationals travelling to South East Asia to abuse children.”
05 Nov 2007 46 Arrests in UK as international child sex offender network smashed
“The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre has coordinated the UK response in smashing a global child sex offender network.
So far, 46 suspects have been arrested in the UK in operations involving 22 police forces around the country with more arrests expected in the near future.
Operation Koala was initiated in 2006 and involved the sexual abuse of children from a modelling website based in Italy. ‘Customers’ from all over the world were able to order tailor-made videos depicting the abuse.
The investigation began when a child abuse video – made in Belgium – was discovered in Australia. A Belgian perpetrator and two victims were identified. Consequently, the sole producer of the material, a 42 year old Italian national, was arrested. He was running a website on which he sold over 150 self-made, sexually explicit videos of young girls. The business had been running for eighteen months and generated considerable profits from around 2,500 customers worldwide.
The abusive material was mainly produced in the man’s private studio. Some material was filmed in Belgium and the Netherlands. One of the video’s sold by the Italian suspect shows a father sexually abusing his daughters of 9 and 11 years of age. ‘Customers’ of this website were able to order tailor made videos and some even travelled to the studio in order to watch and record the abuse, making their own private videos.
Shortly after the Italian child sex offender was arrested in Bologna, the Italian authorities forwarded all digitalised material, including ‘customer’ details to Europol and Eurojust. From here, the material was disseminated to the countries in which customers were identified.
In June 2007, the material was passed to CEOP which holds UK responsibility for receiving intelligence and information from overseas on child sexual abuse crimes.
CEOP’s Intelligence Faculty analysed and developed the material and passed details of individual suspects to their local police forces who in turn initiated their own investigations. Operational activity in relation to these investigations is ongoing and likely to continue for some time.”
05 Mar 2008 Eight UK children identified in images seized from international paedophile ring
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre has identified and safeguarded eight British children from sexual abuse as a result of thousands of indecent images seized in an international police operation led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States.
This two-year joint investigation between the FBI and the Queensland Police in Australia focused in on a highly-sophisticated newsgroup hosted on the internet where individuals from around the world traded child sexual abuse images.
As a result of this operation, 400,000 images were seized and where possible identified to a particular country. They were then passed to the appropriate police agencies around the world to investigate further.
In the UK, this work is undertaken by the CEOP Centre and specifically by a specialist team of investigators who use facial recognition software and thorough detective work, examining the images and painstakingly looking for clues to locate the victim or the offender.
The Victim Identification Team at CEOP is headed up by Paul Griffiths:
“Whilst it can be difficult at times, this work is vital to identifying and locating children who are being subjected to horrendous abuse. In this case, eight children aged between six and 14 have since been protected from further abusive situations and six men are currently serving jail terms for their role in sexually abusing these children”.
“In every image there is a child. These images are crime scene photos where children are being subjected to sexual abuse. This is not ‘child pornography’.
“It’s important to remember too, though that these children were not missing. They were located in the place where they were supposed to be safe – their own home – where their abuse was recorded and made available over the internet to satisfy sickening sexual desires of a deviant group of individuals.”
So far, two British men and 20 other individuals from the USA, Canada, Australia and Germany have been arrested in connection to their role in this newsgroup paedophile network.”
21 Apr 2008 Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre publishes 2nd year results and lays out the challenge ahead
131 Children safeguarded from sexual abuse
297 Suspected child sex offenders arrested – a three fold increase
6 Organised paedophile rings dismantled
1.7 Million UK children receiving “safety first” education
“2nd year results from the CEOP Centre – the UK’s dedicated organisation for tackling the sexual abuse of children – show the battle against child sex offenders continues to gather pace.
The CEOP Centre was set up in 2006 to deliver a national policing focus that would track some of the UK’s highest risk sex offenders, provide services across the wider child protection community and deliver a holistic and inclusive response that would get to the heart of the crime.
That focus has led to the safeguarding of 131 children and the arrest of 297 suspected offenders during the last twelve months, with the arrest figures alone being a three-fold increase on the organisation’s first year results.
During the last year the organisation has processed almost 1 million images of child sex abuse – using each unique image to help either build up intelligence, track and bring offenders to account, or as vital parts of an investigative jigsaw leading to 18 young victims being identified from this area of work alone.
And offenders have been targeted not only individually, but also where they have formed intricate paedophile networks with 6 such groups infiltrated and dismantled throughout the year – all with international footprints.
Reports from both the child protection community within the widest sense and members of the public – through the CEOP Centre’s unique report abuse virtual environment – continue on an upward trend with a total of 5,812 reports received and activated during the past year – a 76% increase on the monthly average from 2006/07.”
08 Aug 2008. UK police uncover global online paedophile network
Police today revealed that an international paedophile network has been infiltrated by law enforcement officers and dozens of suspects arrested.
The operation was run jointly by the CEOP Centre, Cleveland Police and the Metropolitan Police Service.
The investigation involved the largest ever coordinated deployment of undercover officers in the UK within a child protection investigation.
The announcement came as a 27 year old Teesside man was sentenced to an indeterminate public protection sentence for his part in the network, which has so far identified over 360 suspects worldwide. More than 130 of these suspects are in the UK, resulting in over 50 arrests to date.
15 children have been safeguarded in the UK as a result of this ongoing investigation.
Philip Anthony Thompson, unemployed and from the Stockton-on-Tees area of Cleveland, was charged with 27 counts in total including causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity, taking indecent photographs of a child and making and distributing child abuse images. Approximately a quarter of a million child abuse images, still and moving and ranging from levels 1-5, were discovered in Thompson’s possession.
The investigation began in May 2007 when the Metropolitan Police Paedophile Unit initiated an undercover operation into an internet forum. Users of the forum would post disturbing, ‘borderline-legal’ images of children and pass comments on the images. This tactic, of posting indicative images instead of more explicit child sex abuse images, was an attempt to keep the site ‘below the radar’ of law enforcement and prevent it being shut down. Having made contact through the forum, its users would meet other like-minded individuals and exchange images in different online environments.
Thompson was identified as a senior administrator within the site and found to be living in Teesside.
CEOP, which holds national responsibility for coordinating the deployment of covert investigators on the internet in child sexual abuse investigations, undertook responsibility for developing the operation on a national and international level.
Cleveland Police joined forces with CEOP and affected Thompson’s arrest and, once a copy of the server had been seized, officers were able to identify those accessing the site and undertake risk assessments, supported by the deployment of undercover internet investigators.
The Australian Federal Police, the Department for Homeland Security in the US and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police took the lead within their jurisdictions as partners in the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies working together to prevent and deter online child abuse. Suspect details were circulated internationally via Interpol, also a VGT partner.“
To save you reading through all this sewage again, here is a summary of what I think are the points of interest.
- There is no message relating to Madeleine McCann other than the press release of 9 May 2007, which is to the effect that Madeleine is missing.
- There is scant evidence that CEOP had any advanced facility for the detection of paedophile rings. All of the leads seem to have arisen from a victim coming forth, or originated from abroad.
- There is only one reference to the ability to scan photographs and check them against a database. It is not clear whether this is a database of offenders or of victims. In the McCann case, a CEOP request for holiday photographs suggests the centre was trying to match against known paedophiles.
- There is zero evidence in the CEOP files that the Algarve was a haven for British (and other) paedophiles. This does not prove that the Algarve was not a haven for British paedophiles. It simply means that CEOP was unaware of such. The track record of CEOP in this respect does not fill me with hope. CEOP was publishing details of a small number of UK paedophiles who were breaching supervision orders. I would be astonished if the number of UK paedophiles breaching supervision orders is anything like as small as the numbers posted.