12th April 2018
Thirty-three people have been convicted in the UK following National Crime Agency (NCA) investigations into the online streaming of child sexual abuse within internet chatrooms.
The international investigation, involving partners in Canada and the United States, began after the NCA uncovered a UK-based online child sexual abuse network linked to a Canadian suspect.
That operation led to the conviction of seven men in the UK in 2014, who conspired to rape a child under the age 13 and were sentenced to a total of 107 years in prison.
Intelligence from this operation allowed the Toronto Police Service to launch an undercover operation which identified further suspects across the world who were using social media to organise, view, share or broadcast child sexual abuse in real-time.
The Canadian investigation - Project Mercury – resulted in further investigations led by the NCA, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
So far, the NCA has arrested 79 individuals, with 33 convicted and sentenced to over 68 years in prison. As a result of this activity, 58 children have been safeguarded.
A number of individuals remain in the judicial process and the number of convictions is expected to rise.
In one case, six men from the UK were convicted after viewing the live rape of a boy on a video conferencing platform. The victim, who lived in the US, was identified and has since been safeguarded. His abuser was successfully prosecuted and jailed.
Another offender, a father of two from Wales, was jailed for fifteen years after admitting offences against children.
A number of suspects remain under investigation by the NCA and intelligence on other individuals with possible links to the network has been shared with UK police forces.
Colin Radcliffe, senior operations manager at the NCA, said:
“The sharing of both live and recorded child abuse on a variety of platforms is a growing threat. Behind every image is a child who was abused or is still being abused and their protection is at the centre of everything we do.
“Project Mercury has focused on the most determined offenders who are least likely to seek help and are hardest to prevent from offending. They must be the focus for law enforcement.
“Technology companies can help by taking measures to prevent the uploading and sharing of indecent images of children, essentially designing out preventable offences, which will enable the NCA and the police to focus on those that pose the greatest risk.
“By sharing information quickly and securely with international law enforcement partners and technology companies and developing new tools and tactics, we maximise our ability to protect children.”