70 more to face child abuse charges

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SEVENTY more alleged paedophiles – including at least five in the Lothians – are set to face charges in connection with the worst child abuse ring ever uncovered in Scotland.

As eight members of the paedophile gang centred in Edinburgh were convicted of a string of horrific sex offences involving youngsters, detectives revealed they have already arrested around half of the suspects in a string of raids across the UK

Ringleaders James Rennie, 38, and Neil Strachan, 41, are both facing life sentences after being found guilty at the city's High Court of sex attacks on children, including a three-month old baby. Diagnosed with HIV/Aids, Strachan may even have molested a pair of toddlers while infected, forcing the parents to go through the agony of waiting for blood test results to give them the all-clear.

Detectives have revealed that two more ring members from the Lothians have been arrested while three living in Edinburgh and Livingston have been targeted, but are currently walking free.

Police in the Lothians, whose Operation Algebra smashed open the ring, are working with forces throughout the UK to trace the remaining 35 suspects.

At least 130 other ring members are believed to live in the United States, Europe and Australia, with detectives also linking up with the FBI and law enforcement agencies in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands to track them down.

Lothian and Borders Police today pledged to continue the manhunt as part of a case described by Detective Superintendent Allan Jones as "one of the biggest and most challenging ever investigated by the force".

He said it represented the largest paedophile network ever dismantled in Scotland.

He added: "Our thoughts go out to the victims and their families who have gone through untold trauma as a result of these despicable acts.

"It is every parent's nightmare that their children have been abused and they knew nothing about it.

"It is even more daunting that, due to their young age, these children were not able to communicate what was happening to them."

The parents of one of the abused youngsters have told how their lives were changed forever by the realisation they had been betrayed by Rennie, a family friend of 15 years. They had no idea of the abuse until detectives told them of the images and videos, which have now been shared by paedophiles around the world.

Apart from Strachan – a registered sex offender since the 1990s over other child abuse offences – none of the accused was known to the police. All had good jobs and came from solid backgrounds.

As well as being the chief executive of Leith-based LGBT Scotland, which counsels sexually confused youngsters, it has emerged that Rennie was involved in a number of youth groups. All insist they had no reason to suspect him of such horrific crimes, and that he did not have access to children. Police said he lived a "classic double life".

Strachan, from Dalry, Rennie, from Restalrig, as well as Ross Webber, 27, Craig Boath, 24, and John Milligan, 40, were also found guilty of conspiracy by plotting to gain access to children to carry out sexual abuse.

It was the first time a conspiracy charge has been used successfully in Scotland to prosecute a gang of child abusers following a ground-breaking trial. All five, along with Colin Slaven, 23, Neil Campbell, 46, and John Murphy, 44, were found guilty of charges relating to child pornography.

Strachan, who was married until his divorce in 2001, has already served three years for indecent assault on a young boy while running the Edinburgh branch of Celtic Boys Club. He was also given a year's probation aged 17 for indecency.

Strachan was diagnosed with HIV/Aids in June 2007 – a year-and-a-half after he attempted to rape the 18-month-old boy – known in court as Child JL. He also indecently touched a six-year-old boy while the child was lying asleep.

As well as molesting the three-month-old boy he was babysitting, known in court as Child F, Rennie offered him for abuse by other perverts during internet chats, and allowed Milligan to listen over the phone while he attacked him.

Strachan joined Rennie at his home in Marionville Road at some time between August 2004 and November 2007, when Child F was between one and three years old, for further sex attacks.

Rennie boasted online about this encounter to another paedophile, Lachlan Anderson, 51, from Cumbernauld. Anderson is presently serving a 20-month sentence after being caught with child pornography, including images of Rennie abusing his infant victim.

The ring was only discovered after Strachan sent his work computer to be repaired and images of naked young boys were found on the hard drive.

Computer forensic experts were able to track down other members through e-mails during an 18-month investigation, eventually arresting the eight men and recovering almost 125,000 indecent images.

The ten-week trial saw records of hours of internet chats spanning more than four years which featured fantasy descriptions of the sadistic sexual torture of children.

Police employed the latest techniques to bring the men to justice, recruiting a top electronics expert to identify a camera used by Strachan to take one of the horrific photos, a first for a trial outside the US.

Judge Lord Bannatyne described the case as "lengthy and horrific" and called for background reports before sentencing at a later date. All eight men were remanded in custody.

The judge thanked members of the jury, all of whom have been excused from jury service for life and offered counselling. Following the convictions, Morag McLaughlin, area procurator fiscal for Lothian and Borders, said police and prosecutors had been "tenacious in their pursuit of a just result".

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill added: "The appalling crimes brought to light by Operation Algebra have shocked and saddened me, as I'm sure they have shocked most people across Scotland."

How PC repairs unmasked sick gang

IT SEEMED like a routine job for the computer engineer as he unpacked another batch of PCs to check which systems needed repaired.

But as Richard Harper searched through a hard drive sent down to his Berkshire shop from the Capital, he spotted a file tagged "young boys".

The 23-year-old opened the file and was shocked to discover pictures of a naked boy aged about 11 on the screen – an image which sparked an 18-month police inquiry into a paedophile ring.

The PC had been sent by Neil Strachan, an engineer for Crown Paints. The system was returned – sealed – to the firm's base in Northumbria and only unpacked in the presence of police.

Malcolm Burnage, a boss at the firm, later told the court that he phoned Strachan before the police and told him there was "inappropriate material" on the PC. The 48-year-old said his employee reacted with "surprise".

Police believe Strachan had been storing the images on his work's hard drive and simply "forgot" they were there.

It was a mistake which led officers to Strachan's front door in Duff Street, Dalry, on 9 November, 2007, a home which he shared with his on-off boyfriend, Colin Slaven.

Strachan was arrested that day and, six days later, Slaven was detained as well.

The 13-strong Operation Algebra inquiry team, led by Detective Inspector Stuart Hood, now contacted the US courts to ask Microsoft to provide computer logs.

The results revealed exchanges between Strachan and the e-mail address, "kplover99" – a sick joke officers immediately recognised as "kiddie porn lover".

The address was registered to a Hotmail account with false details, but police forensic computer experts traced it to the Edinburgh office of LGBT Youth Scotland in Leith.

And a scan found that its chief executive, James Rennie, had been "piggy-backing" on a neighbour's service from his home in Marionville Road, Restalrig, in a bid to hide who was downloading the images.

Officers would find images of Rennie sexually assaulting a boy as young as three months old, the son of close friends.

Raids followed on Ross Webber in North Berwick, East Lothian, Craig Boath from Dundee, and Neil Campbell, John Murphy and John Milligan, from Glasgow.

Along with Strachan and Rennie, they had joined together to share some of the most disturbing images experts had ever seen.

Families tell of devastation

THE parents of the two young children abused by members of the paedophile ring have spoken of the devastating effect on their families.

The family of the baby abused by James Rennie said their life had been "turned upside down" since they discovered the close family friend had targeted their son.

"For over 15 years, James Rennie seemed the closest of family friends, and it is hard to put into words the extent of the betrayal he has exacted upon us," they said.

"Voyeurs of child pornography are paedophiles, and contribute directly to the abuse of children – claiming that you would never actually harm a child is delusional."

They thanked all those involved in bringing the abusers to justice and added: "Retribution for us as parents comes in the form of the justice that has been served. How this will affect our son's relationships as he grows older is unknown. This is not the end for us, but the start of the process to rebuild our lives."

The mother of an 18-month-old boy abused by Neil Strachan said: "The anguish I feel towards Mr Strachan is indescribable.

"I feel that no matter what punishment is given it will never be able to compensate for the hurt, devastation and great deal of stress."

And the step-dad of a boy abused by Strachan 11 years ago said he wished he had killed him at the time to prevent him going on to offend again, it was reported today. The man only found out about Strachan's latest crimes when his now grown-up step-son read about it in a newspaper.

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