25 April 2014
Four men have been sentenced to a total of 20 years in prison in Bahrain, after an investigation by Surrey Police and the National Crime Agency, in conjunction with the Kingdom of Bahrain Ministry of Interior Police and Bahrain Public Prosecution.
They were charged with a range of offences including the sexual assault of children, forcing children by threats and blackmail to obscene acts and publishing and circulating audiovisual recordings of children.
Investigations began in January 2012 when a boy’s parent contacted Surrey Police with concerns about his contact with a person claiming to be a 13-year-old girl from Rome. The victim had initially been contacted via Blackberry Messenger and following conversations online was encouraged to perform sexual acts via a webcam.
Further inquiries by the force’s Paedophile On-line Investigation Team (POLIT) identified a total of 37 victims in Surrey and elsewhere in the UK, and that the accounts being used by the suspect were in fact being accessed in Bahrain.
Surrey Police then contacted CEOP, which, after further investigation, identified other offenders. Officers found that the group had enticed their victims – to date all boys - by pretending to be girls sending indecent images of themselves, and then requesting indecent images in return.
The offenders – aged between 19 and 21 at the time - would then threaten to post the victims’ images on internet sites or send them to friends and family unless more images were sent.
The evidence garnered was used to support authorities in Bahrain in their successful prosecution of the perpetrators.
To date, action has been taken to safeguard 249 children targeted by these offenders, although investigations suggest that they sought to abuse many others in the UK and around the world.
Andy Baker Deputy Director of the NCA’s CEOP Command, said:
“The online sexual abuse of these victims has been harrowing. These offenders used the 'scatter gun’ approach to target as many victims as possible, playing the averages in their pursuit of victims. Multiple time zones mean there will always be children online at any one time, so continued international law enforcement collaboration is crucial.
“No matter where in the world offenders and their victims are located, we will work with our international partners to ensure they are identified, with offenders being punished and children being safeguarded”.
Detective Superintendent Jon Savell, Head of Public Protection at Surrey Police, said:
“Surrey Police has a team dedicated to tackling this type of on-line offending and thanks to the painstaking work of the officers involved we were able to establish that whoever was behind this was targeting boys on a massive scale across the country and beyond. "This was clearly a dangerous and prolific group and we welcome the sentences handed down to the four men in Bahrain.
"I hope this case demonstrates that no matter where in the world offenders are hiding, we will use all available resources and work with other agencies both in the UK and abroad to help bring them to justice."
While the known victims all appear to be boys, it is likely that a number of girls will also have been in contact with these offenders.
Calls will be answered by a fully briefed NSPCC Helpline officer, who will be able to offer the appropriate advice and support. Information shared will be treated confidentially unless there is anything to suggest a child is at risk of harm.