By Louise Shorter, from insidetime issue November 2010
Legal action set to take place in the Court of Appeal in London could pave the way for hundreds of child pornography convictions, secured during Operation Ore, to be overturned in what is being described by campaigners as a ‘massive miscarriage of justice’
Operation Ore, the codename for the police investigation which began in 2002, was launched after information supplied by US law enforcement agencies purported to show that more than 7,000 UK men used their credit cards to access online child pornography sites. It netted high profile figures such as The Who guitarist Pete Townshend and fed the nation’s fear that paedophilia is endemic throughout modern cyber-savvy society.
But the police operation which ran for more than five years is steeped in controversy, with critics claiming the computer database of users’ names and credit card details was riddled with fraud. Defence experts say the fraud being perpetuated was simple and effective: owners of websites including legal adult pornography re-used credit card details supplied to them to sign up for their illegal services, child pornography. Chris Saltrese, the solicitor representing Anthony O’Shea whose case will be heard at the Appeal Court this month, says: “there are hundreds of people who’ve been convicted of one of the worst crimes imaginable. Lives and families have been destroyed. But the evidence now shows that many of those convicted weren’t paedophiles at all. They were victims of straightforward online credit card fraud.”
Anthony O’Shea’s house was one of more than 4,000 homes raided during the police operation which ultimately led to 2,000 convictions and 140 children being removed from their homes. Though no illegal paedophile material was found on Mr O’Shea’s computer, his credit card had been used attempting to pay for access to sites. In 2005 he was convicted, sentenced to 5 months in jail and placed on the sex offender register for 7 years. His life, he says, and that of his wife, children, sibling and parents have all been destroyed.
Throughout all of the original trials, defence teams were denied access to the full computer database which provided the list of credit card details on which the Ore prosecutions were brought. Taking more than 5 years to secure sight of the database, a defence expert who has examined it now claims ‘indicators of fraud are present in abundance.’ Those indicators include evidence that subscribers paid to access these illegal sites but then failed to view the material paid for, and that credit cards were used to pay for multiple subscriptions even though only one was required.
Last month, in a separate case, a London based businessman, Chris Singam, was awarded £180,000 damages after charges of downloading child pornography were thrown out two weeks before the case was due to be heard in court. Having lost his business, been threatened and ostracised, Mr Singam was eventually told the computer evidence the CPS relied on was “flawed” – his computer had been infected with a virus.
To date, 39 men caught up in Operation Ore are said to have committed suicide.