Operation Ore exposed

They arrive without warning at six in the morning. Drowsily rising, Adam Smith finds two polite, suited men. ‘Police. May we come in?’

Operation Ore exposed

The scene starts to shift. ‘I am arresting you on suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography. We have a search warrant.’ Behind their backs, Smith sees a flurry of others moving in. They are firm but not aggressive – they know they are dealing with a middle-class, educated professional with no criminal history.

A female officer corners his wife and asks her if she knew her husband was a paedophile. Would she please make up an excuse for the kids not going to school today? A family social worker will be coming over to interview them – in case her husband has been abusing his own children.

Politeness is maintained at the police station. Booked in, interviewed. They ask him to confirm his credit card number and the email addresses he used in 1999. They show him a copy of a credit card bill they have already got from his bank. They point to a payment to Landslide Productions. ‘You paid for child pornography; that’s what that is.’ He says ‘no’ and that he’s never heard of that company.

The facts they put so confidently seem to fit, except that Smith has never had any interest in children other than being a good dad.

In one day, for no cause he can understand, Smith has become a pariah, one of the most hated, baited people in the country, a suspected child-molesting paedophile. In the months ahead, it will only get worse.

Even if his computer is eventually found to contain nothing more sexually unusual than the proportions of Samantha Fox, he faces months of fearing trial, stigma and possible jail, accused merely of ‘inciting’ the sale of child porn, based solely on computer data found years ago in a Texas office block.

Mass arrests

Operation Ore launched on British TV screens on 20 May 2002. The BBC led on ‘mass arrests over online child porn’. Thirty-six people were arrested, with promises of thousands more to follow. It made for compelling television, and provoked a rash of tabloid activity, but it also led to increased pressure on the police to bring the remaining thousands to justice.

Unfortunately, not all the evidence presented was quite as clear cut as it seemed. Clearly visible on the bulletin was a computer screen displaying Exhibit One of Operation Ore. In the middle of the screen were the words ‘Click Here CHILD PORN’.

According to witness statements sworn by the US detective Steven Nelson and US Postal Inspector Michael Mead, this was the front page of Landslide Productions Inc, a company at the centre of child porn allegations. To go further, they testified, those prosecuted must have clicked on ‘Enter’. They would then be taken to a page that proclaimed itself as ‘the most controversial site on the Web … no legal content … phedophilias [sic]… all sick, all sex maniacs’. Click on and they would be taken to ‘Lolita World’, and from there, said Nelson, to a host of child porn websites offered by Keyz, a separate service offered by Landslide.

The Metropolitan Police Paedophile Unit let the BBC cameras in on the planning process for Operation Ore raids for a series shown a year ago: ‘Police Protecting Children’. At the start of the show was a PowerPoint briefing for the raiding teams. Slide 1 showed the ‘Click here’ banner, with the legend ‘First they are into an adult site. And choose to go to a child site’.

To British police and prosecutors, this was killer evidence. It meant everyone who had been to Landslide had knowingly chosen to access child porn. It meant that everyone who had subscribed to the site must automatically be guilty.

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