Blackmail conviction leads to worldwide paedophile investigations

13 October 2016

DI Paul Peters

DI Paul Peters speaking at the National Detectives' Forum

South Wales Police's conviction of a blackmailer, who posed as a 13-year-old girl to extort money from paedophiles, led to a worldwide enquiry to track victims.

Intelligence gained through this investigation was shared with the 42 other police forces in England and Wales, as well as law enforcement authorities in 118 other countries, mainly in the US, but also Peru, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Ethiopia.

The main objective of Operation Red Eclipse – which stemmed from the 2015 conviction of Cardiff-based Lee Rees – was safeguarding children, Detective Inspector Paul Peters told delegates at our National Detectives' Forum today.

After mining the data from Rees’ multiple internet accounts, including contact with paedophiles, identities and ‘grooming conversations’ his contacts had had with underage victims, his force has been able to send 4,808 intelligence reports worldwide to help catch the offenders.

In the UK alone Red Eclipse, which has involved 52 officers and staff from South Wales Police and 18 officers from other forces, has generated 117 warrants and 114 arrests. Sharing best practice has proved invaluable for other forces, said DI Peters.

“There have been challenges,” he said. “Some officers didn’t know what IPs (Internet Protocol addresses) were, or even what Skype was. Most frustrating has been the inconsistent approach by police forces across the UK. Some actually said that the subject ‘didn’t actually look like a paedophile!’”

The enquiry also gave greater insight about how paedophiles gain the trust of potential victims online such as paying compliments, requesting photos and questioning victims about their hobbies.

In total, Rees’ 42 different Skype accounts were forensically analysed, and his 5,095 Skype contacts scrutinised as well as his methods – Rees used viruses to ‘get inside’ paedophiles computers. Scouring his accounts, DI Peters’ team were able to identify a watch commander in the fire service and a teacher and help bring them to justice.

Red Eclipse, which has cost nearly £400,000 to date, has two more intelligence reports or ‘packages’ to deliver to law enforcement agencies.

The seminar, which includes the annual National Detective Awards for the best of British detectives, organised by the Police Federation of England and Wales, is being held at Scunthorpe until 14 October.