700 paedophile suspects the tip of the iceberg says agent

AT least 700 suspected paedophiles from Edinburgh have been caught trafficking thousands of images of child sex abuse by United States special agents.

Undercover officers from a special task force have been monitoring the online activities of hundreds of offenders over the past three years. A total of 3200 internet or IP addresses have been traced to the Capital, with 707 individual computers identified.

The obscene material was mostly made up of videos, predominantly featuring children aged eight and under, and including horrific images of youngsters being raped. The US team said it had now passed its evidence to UK authorities for investigation.

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Special Agent Flint Waters, from the Wyoming Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, warned the actual number of offenders could run into thousands in Edinburgh and even this figure could represent the "tip of the iceberg".

Sometimes posing as children or abusers, the task force has been offered or accessed nearly 10,000 illegal images and videos held on computers in the Capital. Software programs are used to trawl the internet and find individuals from the city offering to trade images from shared folders.

The Wyoming team are working as part of an international police blitz, called Operation Peer Precision, which involves forces from 18 countries worldwide, including in the UK.

Special Agent Waters said: "They may be individuals who have placed images in shared folders which others can download. They are not the only occasions where agents have been offered them directly, our software is also able to find these folders online.

"But we are only searching a small part of the internet so the number of people involved could be much higher. It does not include those who are trading images via email.

"After we find them we can trace their IP addresses and, sometimes, the computer serial number. Since tracing the serial number is not always possible, I would say the figure of around 700 for Edinburgh is probably a minimum figure. An individual trading for a few months might also use more than one IP address.

"The number in Edinburgh could be in the thousands as a result, but it's difficult to place an exact number on it."

He added: "It's relatively easy for us to trace names and addresses with IP addresses. Law enforcers can simply contact the ISP (internet service providers) companies who keep records. The difficulty is having enough officers to cope with the demand."

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In June last year, four people were charged in the Lothians in connection with an international online paedophile ring. Police said the group was targeted as part of the investigation into the ring which involved more than 700 suspects in 35 countries.

Lothian and Borders Police referred inquiries about the American investigation to the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.

The Acpos spokesman said the figures were "alarming" but said more investigation was needed to determine the crimes committed.

He said: "Through our combined intelligence gathering and operational procedures, we intend to seriously impact on those whose are involved in carrying out these heinous acts. Tracing of internet paedophilia is done through internet intervention. In effect, we are turning the very technology these predators seek to use, on themselves to track them down."

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