A man from Merseyside has been jailed after the National Crime Agency smashed a paedophile ring in the Philippines.
Thomas Owen had nearly four million indecent images in his possession and has been jailed for seven years.
The organised crime group, which facilitated the live streaming of child sexual abuse to order over the internet, has been dismantled after a joint investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA), the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Operation Endeavour, which began in 2012, has resulted in (to date):
29 international arrests, 11 of which were part of the group in the Philippines- 12 countries involved in the arrest of individuals who had been paying for the live abuse of children
15 children in the Philippines aged between 6-15 identified and safeguarded from sexual abuse
Over £37,500 identified as having been paid for the live abuse of children by the customer network
The crime group arranged for children to be sexually abused live on webcam in exchange for payment. Some of those who helped them were members of the children’s own families.
Within the UK there have been 17 arrests which resulted in: five convictions, nine investigations ongoing, one required no further action and two individuals are deceased. The UK customer base had paid over £5,351 to the crime group.
The investigation began after Northamptonshire Police carried out a routine visit at the home of registered sex offender Timothy Ford and found a number of indecent videos on computers in the property. The force then contacted the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and, after working together, a number of ‘customers’ and associates were identified and a global law enforcement investigation commenced.
In 2012, ongoing analysis of the digital media associated with the investigation led to the identification of additional suspects and numerous children in the Philippines who were believed to have been sexually exploited. In August of that year, CEOP contacted ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) office in Manila, the Australia Federal Police and the International Justice Mission (a non-governmental organisation) to request support for the investigation. Together, the agencies presented the case to the Philippine National Police (PNP) for possible enforcement action and between August and October 2012 all were involved in efforts to identify the offenders and victims in the Philippines.
In October 2012, three search warrants were executed and with the assistance of CEOP, ICE and the AFP, the Philippine National Police arrested 11 Filipino nationals and rescued 15 victims. All of the victims rescued were placed in the custody of the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development.
In addition to Operation Endeavour, three other separate investigations are currently ongoing into the live streaming of child sexual abuse, which have already identified 733 suspects – 139 of these in the UK and 594 overseas. Among these is Michael Eller, who has been convicted and sentenced to serve 14 years in prison. One investigation is being led by the National Crime Agency’s CEOP command and two involve UK police forces.
One of the UK ‘customers’ already convicted under Operation Endeavour is Timothy Ford, who was sentenced in March 2013 to eight and a half years in prison. Ford was paying for the live abuse of children and planned on moving to the Philippines to set up an internet café. Investigations into his activities and the wider customer network he was associated with identified other suspects including Thomas Owen, from Merseyside, who was sentenced in July 2013 to seven years in prison.
Owen was in possession of nearly four million indecent images of children when he was arrested. Evidence showed Ford and Owen discussing online how they could travel to the Philippines to carry out contact abuse of children. In one chat log Ford, who uses a wheelchair, suggested that Owen could act as his carer so they could travel to the Philippines together in an attempt to avoid detection.
The use of web cams to stream live abuse, particularly from the developing world, is a significant and emerging threat according to the NCA’s CEOP 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.
Andy Baker, Deputy Director of the NCA’s CEOP 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.
“This kind of end-to-end operation is only possible when law enforcement agencies work together. The NCA has valuable international partners, including the Philippine National Police and the International Justice Mission (IJM), to not only share information and intelligence, but ensure abused and exploited children are identified and safeguarded from harm”.
The AFP’s Assistant Commissioner Tim Morris said he is committed to taking all necessary action to protect children in Australia and internationally from sexual exploitation.
“Every day, AFP officers work with state and international counterparts to combat child sexual exploitation and to bring offenders to justice”.
“The use of online media to drive these types crimes is a sinister development. To target the most vulnerable members of the community in this way cannot be tolerated in any society.
"It’s abhorrent that these crimes occur and it is our duty as police and the wider community to ensure that every possible measure is taken to identify and assist the victims and to identify and take action against the perpetrators"
ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Executive Associate Director James Dinkins said:
“Thanks to this joint operation, children have been rescued from a living nightmare,” “The group responsible for these heinous crimes mistakenly believed that they could use technology to avoid detection, but they were wrong. We will continue to work tirelessly with our international law enforcement partners across jurisdictions and national boundaries to protect children anywhere in the world and bring criminals to justice regardless of where they live.”