A team of international investigators infiltrated an Internet chat room used by pedophiles who streamed live videos of children being raped, rescuing 31 children and identifying more than 700 suspects worldwide.
Undercover officers in Britain, the US, Canada and Australia busted the pedophile ring using techniques more commonly associated with fighting terrorism and organized crime.
The chat room, which was called "Kids the Light of Our Lives," featured images, including live videos, of children -- some only months old -- being subjected to horrific sexual abuse, said Jim Gamble, chief executive of Britain's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.
"You could go and if you were in the club, arrange a time and a place when online you could view a child being raped and brutalized in real time," he said.
Police analyzed images and videos traded by the chat room's members for the smallest clues that could help them identify, locate and rescue the victims.
More than 15 children were found in Britain, Gamble said.
A Canadian official said authorities there arrested 24 Canadians and rescued seven Canadian children as part of the probe.
Four people have been arrested in Australia, including one who was previously convicted of child pornography charges, officials said yesterday.
Describing it as "a massive leap forward," Gamble said the investigation involved agencies from 35 countries.
The case was made public after the sentencing of ringleader Timothy David Martyn Cox on Monday in Britain.
Cox, 27, was given an indeterminate jail sentence, meaning he will remain in prison until authorities decide he is no longer a threat to children. One of his accomplices, Gordon Mackintosh, has pleaded guilty to 27 charges of making, possessing and distributing indecent images and videos. He is awaiting sentencing.
The probe began in Canada in the spring of 2005, then expanded internationally last August after Canadian officials tipped off authorities in London that they believed the chat room's host was based in Britain.
Working with their Canadian counterparts, British police infiltrated the chat room posing as contributors. They traced the host to a farmhouse in Buxhall, 150km northeast of London, where Cox lived with his parents and sister. He had operated the chat room out of his bedroom while working for the family's microbrewery.
The evidence police collected in the probe documented shocking abuse, Gamble said.
Cox had been a member of a US-based online pedophile ring shut down by US authorities in March last year, Gamble said.
Police arrested Cox on Sept. 28. British and Canadian officers immediately assumed his identity and secretly ran the site for 10 days to gather more evidence before shutting it down.
Weeks later, British police saw the chat room was back up. The new host was traced to an apartment in Welwyn Garden City, 50km north of London, belonging to Mackintosh, a manager at a video streaming company.
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