Is this our biggest police scandal ever?

Operation Ore

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Operation Ore saw some 7,272 British residents targeted on suspicion of buying child porn online. Duncan Campbell a computer expert wrote in the Guardian in 1977 that 39 men have killed themselves under the pressure of the investigations, hundreds, possibly thousands, more, have had their lives, families and careers destroyed and that thousands of cases under Operation Ore have been built on the shakiest of foundations - the use of credit card details to sign up for pornography websites.

In many cases, the card details were stolen; the sites contained nothing or legal material only; and the people who allegedly signed up to visit the sites never went there. In the original American investigation tens or hundreds of thousands of people fell victim to a site called Landslide.com. Landslide's computers also contained 54,348 sets of stolen credit card information, including information on dozens of UK residents apparently stolen from a Florida-based luxury goods company; some were later used to pay for porn websites operated by Landslide.

British police evidently did not consider the credit card fraud a salient point, one victim was told by British police that they had never heard of it happening!

The Register asks:

But how can we be sure that the card details really were stolen, and not being used by their owners? Jim Bates of Computer Investigations, who acted as an expert witness for a number of defence cases, examined the newly uncovered Landslide website log of all recent activity. The log recorded when credit cards were signed up and charged - and, critically, whether the person putting in the card details then went on to visit the porn site they had paid for. Bates found that not only did thousands of the supposed porn buyers not go to get their porn; many of the sites had been set up purely for fraud. His checks were evidential tests that the UK police seem to have forgotten to take.

Now we come to the recent news that Avon & Somerset Chief Constable Colin Port, is threatening to go to prison rather than hand back hard copy images and hard drives containing much of this information to Mr Bates as ordered by the Appeal Court which ruled that the seizure had been illegal, and that the material should be returned, in part to Jim Bates, in part to independent experts.

Mr Bates has spoken out publicly because he is so concerned about the misinformation being put out by Avon & Somerset police and the Met’s Child Exploitation Online Protection Team (CEOP).

He also believes that these events finally link to fall-out from Operation Ore - perhaps the largest single operation by police against collectors of child porn in the UK - just as the likelihood of a class action against the police in respect of Ore cases nears the appeal courts. His view is that the investigation was hopelessly compromised by the presence of credit card fraud, and that a high proportion of the convictions were unduly influenced by a police tendency to interpret the evidence to fit their preconceptions. He says:

The evidence I have collected over the six years since I first became involved in Operation ORE is extremely sensitive and undoubtedly includes information that the police (particularly CEOP) would prefer not to see revealed. It is likely that this evidence will eventually lead to exposure of the biggest police scandal that this country has ever seen. Thus it appears that this may be a last ditch attempt by the police to cover up possible incompetence (or worse) by Avon and Somerset police and the shortcomings of Operation ORE. Colin Port may have been persuaded to make his stand on alleged child pornography to cloud the issues and retain the illegally obtained data.

I also feel that the recent support for [Colin Port’s] position offered by Jim Gamble of CEOP is extremely interesting given that Mr Gamble headed the Operation ORE enquiry and has more to lose than most when the appalling shambles is eventually exposed.

Jim Gamble has stated that:"over 90 per cent of those involved pleaded guilty: that's not about credit card fraud."

Many people found a false confession to be the easy way out, can you blame them? And do you really want all your details on the vast National Identity Register?

See also tee2i.
The US police only charged 100 people out of 35,000 suspects. They had back up evidence to check that the men had indeed visited the sites. In the UK, police have, so far, convicted 1,451 men out of the original 7,250 suspects. This is hardly surprising as they barely considered the possibility of fraud and did not have back up evidence. This despite the fact that the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit , set up at a cost of £25 million, to support police forces, was there to help.

Update: Colin Port handed back the seized items on 15th June 2009