back to article Operation Ore: evidence of massive credit card fraud

There are few subjects as emotive as child pornography, and few accusations that can so quickly and permanently tar a reputation. Merely to be accused of a child pornography offence is to be convicted in the public consciousness. But now it seems that Operation Ore, which saw some 7,272 British residents targeted on suspicion …


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  1. Dan

    Don't let the facts get in the way of a conviction...

    Clearly there is always room for sensationalism, but if the facts are even half as outrageous as the story, this is pretty horrendous. Forget looking down on these guys as they are arrested, start thanking your lucky stars that it wasn't you...

  2. Graham Marsden

    Paging John Reid...

    We read stories like this and yet John Reid wants to go ahead with plans to create a new offence with punishment of an unlimited fine and up to three years in prison for possession of cartoon or computer-created pictures if they appear to feature "child sex abuse".

    So anyone who's downloaded Anime or Hentai images could be on the list.

    I wonder what is next? Perhaps anyone who has taken a copy of Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" out of the library will be targetted...

  3. John Murgatroyd

    And, what's new ?

    Guilty until proven innocent is the usual thing in sex cases anyway. More so now. How about this.....

  4. bill

    Think Lucy got this one wrong

    Duncan Campbell has based much of his story in the Guardian and PCPro on evidence produced by Jim Bates who is currently on bail awaiting trial for offences of perjury and dishonesty.

    Duncan Campbell has previously posted a similar article on PCPro - but I don't recall seeing that thousands of cases collapsed and hundreds of people being paid thousands in damages.

    Still a story like that does help to sell a few more newspapers.

  5. Charles Arthur

    Remember innocent until proven guilty?

    Bill, you're committing the same fallacy that people commit all the time over Operation Ore cases. The basic principle of criminal justice is "innocent until proven guilty". Someone who has been bailed could have the case dropped tomorrow. It means nothing, and in the eyes of the law - and of you - they are innocent.

    Nor is Jim Bates the only person who has examined the database from Landslide: Duncan Campbell has too (he's an expert witness in these cases).

    The reality, if you read the original article, is that a number of cases have been dropped with apologies from the police because they had no evidence, beyond credit card transactions, of any wrongdoing. And as you should know if your card has ever been used wrongly - mine has, on a gambling site I'd never use - that in itself is not proof of anything.

    Consider this: do you think it's more likely that in 1998 there were webmasters who could set up a ring of sites able to run thousands of fraudulent transactions a day to boost their earnings, or that there are thousands upon thousands of Britons who, when most of the UK was on dialup, were searching for porn sites and happily giving their credit card details to child porn sites?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Innocent UNLESS...

    This saying has been mangled beyond belief.

    'Innocent until proven guilty' presupposes guilt.

    It's 'Innocent UNLESS proven guilty'.

    Thank you.

  7. P

    Of course they are all innocent

    Sure some of these people *may* have been innocent. But what gets me (as a practicing prosecution AND defence expert) is that the vast majority of the people investigated had computers that were purchased after landslide was raided - BUT spookily they were still found to have significant amounts of child pornography on their computers AND evidence of searching and ontaning it from other web sites.

  8. John Stirling

    other guilt

    P: As an expert, can you confirm that in the event of the accused having other pictures of child pornography on their computers, they are going to be found guilty of the crime of viewing kiddie fiddling pictures, regardless of whether they purchased it from this mob or not, as the initial information gave grounds for a search, which search turned up evidence of further crimes - those crimes end up being prosecuted - job done unless the mystic 'child porno downloading malware' defence is used.

    So, anyone released without charge was probably innocent. Or really really clever. But mostly innocent?

    Do the number exist for the number that were a) bought to trial, b) of those bought to trial; convicted? If it's more than 50% in each case then it was probably worth while - shame there wasn't a slightly lower profile approach initially though until some evidence of guilt was found.

    Oh, and completely picked 50% from the air - pick your own number such that 0% < x < 100%

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It happened to me...

    I had the pleasure of a dawn raid by Police officers under Operation Ore after my credit card had been fraudulently used on a landslide site.

    Fortunately, the only ill effect was spending a day in custody since:

    1) There was no child porn - or any other porn for that matter - on any of the PCs or disks the police took from my house.

    2) I still had the letters from the credit card company in response to me querying the fraudulent transactions at the time they had taken place.

    3) The neighbours didn't see the raid.

    4) The police didn't have BBC news in tow on the raid so I wasn't on news 24.

    5) They didn't turn up at my place of work so - as far as I know, my employers never found out about it.

    6) My wife knows me well enough to know I'm not a Paedophile.

    7) They turned a blind eye to my unlicensed software and MP3 collections.

    It still annoys the hell out of me that I was subject to this treatment by the police on such scant evidence. Plus, they never even apologised after I was released - it was like they still didn't believe me.

  10. James Anderson Silver badge

    A cost saving proposal.

    Merge the immigration service, and police with the prison service.

    Re-title the "Home Secratery" as sernior governer.

    Hire an image consultancy for the rebranding of "Cool Britania" as "H.M. Prison -- UK".

    This would save all the expense and bother of arresting every single citizen as the current government seems determined to do.

  11. P

    The procedure

    I think it is also worth bearing in mind that in this country the police are not responsible for taking a person to court. It goes basically like this.

    Intelligence is gathered (in this case from the landslide database) to give the police probable cause.

    They get a warrant and search

    They investigate and present the evidence to CPS

    CPS review the evidence and decide whether to charge (decision is based on whether a conviction is likely i.e >50% chance and whether it is in public interest)

    defence expert appointed by defendants solicitors

    defence expert reviews evidence, along with defendants explanation of events - if he has one

    defence report submitted and case is either dropped by the police or continues to trial.

    Anywhere along the way the defendant can plead guilty - which does happen most of the time.

    Defences usually range from,

    * it was not me - some one broke into my house

    * my old lodger/mate, whos name, I cant remember did it

    * I was hacked

    * someone is trying to stitch me up

    * I bought the hard disk from a computer fair and the material was already on it

    * viruses and popups

    Each of those defences would be examined by both the police and the defence expert to see if they stand up. Normally evidence would be found to the contrary - such as emails/documentation from the owner at the time that the material was downloaded, user docs on disks that predate when he said he got it from the computer fair, a number of CD's that can be shown to come from the computer (not seen a virus or popup insert a CD and write it yet).

    What sometimes happens then is that the defendant comes up with some totally different defence (he is allowed in law to try multiple defences) and the process starts again.

    If you steal someones credit card and use it to downlaod child pornography you will get the images on your computer and not on the computer of the person whos credit card has been stolen

    If however the defence does stand up then the charges would be dropped or the defandant would be found not guilty.

    Once the case does get to court the prosecution barrister has to convince the jury of the defendants guilt.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Worst experience of my life

    It happened to me, too.

    Despite a completely clear conscience, records of the correspondence reporting the transaction as fraudulent, and nothing dodgy on the computers, and perhaps the friendliest possible visit from the police, it was a very unpleasant experience.

    I wasn't arrested, rather they turned up at my home, took a statement and carted off all the computers. They then spent three weeks nosing around at the contents of my life on those PCs. You start thinking - I've got all my family photos on there, and, like any set of family photos, there's the odd pic of my kids in the bath, etc. All innocent, but you start thinking, somewhere someones writing a report about there being 10000 photos on the PC, many including children...

    The process of giving a statement was interesting, as I managed to find out a little on what it was all based on. The transaction in question had been made using my credit card number, and had my name and address with it. It also had an e-mail address, which was almost but not quite my e-mail address (.com changed to .net), which was interesting in itself (suggests the details were taken from another transaction I'd made somewhere, but why change the address?). It also had a password recorded - they asked me for all the passwords I use, but when none matched wouldn't tell me what was on the piece of paper (it might have been made up, or it might have given me a clue as to where my details had been taken from). There was no time of day recorded for the transaction (which gave me no chance of proving I was somewhere else or likely to be asleep).

    It was the local vice squad dealing with this, and their attitude was very much, we've got a list of names, that's all we know. Didn't seem to know or care where the list came from or how it was compiled; everything hinged on carting away computers and seeing what they found.

    I eventually got the computers back, with no comment other than "thank you; that's the end of the matter".

    So, far less painful than it could have been, but just being under suspicion left me badly shaken. It took over a year before I could hug my own kids again without feeling odd, and I still find it difficult talking to other people's children. It's been four years since it all happened, and I still find myself thinking about some aspect of it every single day.

    I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. I'm very pissed off that it happened to me (through no fault of my own), and I'm angry that so many innocent people are being labelled suspected paedophiles. At the same time, though, the operation *is* catching some real paedophiles, so the list of names can't be ignored. I just wish they'd dug a little deeper and shortened the list before they started knocking on doors.

    I'd also *really* want to know more about how this all happened. I want to know how my details ended up on that list - and more to the point, who was responsible. But there's no way I'm going to raise my head above the parapet and ask questions of the police...

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  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Should we consider this acceptable behaviour ?

    Lets consider some KNOWN and undisputed facts :

    Credit card fraud does happen, and is in fact fairly common.

    A list of subjects was drawn up based on littel more than a persons credit card number having been used.

    Two things concern me about what happens next.

    1) How is it acceptable that the TV cameras are taken along to a raid so that someone who may or may well not be guilty can be shown on all TV as someone who "almost certainly in the eyes of many viewers" is now considered guilty ?

    2) How is it considered acceptable to cart off someones computers and keep them - sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks or months - and so prevent that person from continuing their normal lives ?

    If my computers were taken away then not only would I lose access to emails, but so would other members of my family and some of my friends - so some serious inconvenience for many innocent people.

    As to the adverse publicity, I've yet to see ANY report come out and show in the same prominence when someone has been determined to NOT be a suspect any more. When was the last time you saw a headline of "Man declared to be innocent" ?

    Yes, it is deeply worrying that this country is now so far down the road towards "guilt by accusation" for which we (rightly) criticise other contries.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smoke and mirrors

    Jim Bates was a successful prosecution expert witness for the authorities. after he exposed the flaws in the ORE investigation, suddenly he was a target. The american investigators who supplied the list have been prosecuted for falsifying evidence in the US ore cases but the UK police have chosen to ignore this. CEOP are fast to use the blaze of publicity to their advantage, but slow to admit when wrong, maybe Jim Gamble should answer to a commons select comitee on it?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was it a Tesco ISP email account?

    To "worst experience" poster.

    I can totally empathise with you - I was actually arrested, taken away in a Police van an held in a (shared) cell at the local nick all day while they did some initial testing on my PC. I was only released after they found nothing and I had told them I still had records of the fraudulent transaction correspondence.

    Incidentally, I was a Tesco ISP user at the time and a slightly different tesco email address was used instead of mine - again swapping the .net for .com or something. I still think it was a sysadmin at the tesco ISP supplier that stole my details. I had made a purchase from a tin-pot web trader that didn't have an SSL enabled transaction site - so partly my fault I guess.

    I too still have mixed feelings about all this. The DS who was involved gave me a lift home after (but no apology) and was explaining that something like 30% of people they find with abusive images are actively involved in abuse themselves - that's a lot of young lives being rescued from abuse and therefore I believe my day in the cells was probably justified. I'd probably think differently if the consequences to me had been worse than they were in the end.

    I know there's a lot of moaning about the RIP stuff that is intended to allow police access to ISP logging of user activity. But, if the police had monitored my Internet activity they would have been able to see I wasn't doing anything wrong without even visiting my house. I'm sure the fact that my name was on some list of CC transactions would have been enough evidence for them to get a warrant to monitor my Internet activity. I would have much preferred they had done that than raid my house.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    happened to me too

    This happened to me about 18 months ago now although I don't believe it was part of this operation or credit card related.

    I'd been staying over at my gf's house and had come home early to get ready for work - I came home to 2 police cars and a van outside my house, my front door smashed in, half the street looking on and I was taken away by police car and kept all day, overnight, and not released until morning.

    I was officially charged "on suspicion of downloading child pornography" and all of my computing equipment (4 pc's, spares and a sun server) confiscated for 5 months! I was completely cleared of all charges and the whole thing was dropped but I spent 5 months without my own equipment - impacting personal and business activities (no more remote access) and was a nervous wreck all that time. I knew I was innocent, but as an Anime fan I was worried what they would think of some of the more graphic material.

    I got all my kit back thankfully unharmed, and an apology. To this day I still have NO idea why I was targetted, no compensation for the stress caused or lost earnings for 2 days spent at her majesty's convenience, my DNA now probably resides on the national sex offenders database regardless of being found innocent (didn't even make trial).

    I'm severely hacked off, but what can you do ? If I had been guilty of the charges I'd want this sort of thing to happen... but I sure as hell don't trust the authorities and just have to get on as best I can.

    My only solace is that I was found innocent and got all my kit back, and that hopefully similar actions will catch the real perp's.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Mr Tesco ISP,

    the 30% (or 1 in 3) are real abusers statistic is often used by police and organisations like the IWF to justify these investigations. But the figure is based on a very old US postal service survey that only targeted known abusers. The actual number of people arrested for kiddy porn who are found to be abusing kids is closer to 1% in this country- i.e. not very common at all.

    And also bear in mind that the age for child porn images was raised to 18 in 2003 so many more images are now classed as illegal. Any pic where the model looks like they could be 17 is enough for the police to get a 'result'.

  19. P


    Oh come on - a little less paranoia please

    "Jim Bates was a successful prosecution expert witness for the authorities. after he exposed the flaws in the ORE investigation, suddenly he was a target."

    Jim Bates may have been a successful prosecution expert but he ceased to have any credibility when, if private eye are to be believed, it was found out he had been lying on Oath about having a university degree. he of course has since gone on record as admitting that he does not have one.

    "In Operation Ore, defendants were NOT in the main allowed to hire an expert witness to independently examine the hard drive."

    Absolute rubbish - a whole industry has grown up of defence experts (Jim Bates and Duncan Cambell to name two) who make a living almost solely from op Ore. Between myself and a colleague we have handled about 30-40 such defences cases. One of the major forensic companies we know of has done several hundred defence cases. And there are yet other big defence companies who have probably done more. I know of a few independants who have been praciting for years off Op Ore. So a very educated guess is that *just the companies and individuals I know of* have probably done a few thousand defence cases.

    You must remember that it is the defendants right to a fair trial - a defence solicitor (who has the defendants best interest at heart) would scream abuse of process if they could not get a defence expert - its all about parity of arms - if the proscutiopn have an expert the defence is entitled to one. Not getting an expert would be straight to the court of appeal and all over the papers. Not appointing one would also deprive the defence solicitor of a few days work - now why would a solicitor do that to himself.

    You must plead guilty - hang on a second - if the defence lawyer thought there was a case then they would tell them to plead innocent - when a defendant gets advice to plead guilty it is because there is overwhelming evidence - determined by the defendants own expert as well - that they were guilty

    "This means you acknowledge that either your name or credit card number was found on the database- for this you would accept a caution and get 2 years on the Sex Offenders Register.People were not told that accepting a caution amounted to a guilty plea. (and their lawyers didn't tell them either)"

    "And their lawyers didn't tell them either"

    I had to quote that bit twice as it is so outrageous. Conspiracy theory?

    It seems what you are saying is that a) the police were out to get them and there was little or no evidence on there computers. b) the CPS were out to get them because even though the polcie didn't have a sound case the CPS ran with it. c) the defence lawyers were out to get them because they didn't fight for a defence expert (and incidentally if a defence expert was appointed the defence lawyers bill would go up appropriately as they would need to read and understand the evidence) and then advised them to accept a caution rather than to fight it (again the defence lawyers depriving themselves of revenue).

    I have never seen a case where a single thumbnail has resulted in a prosecution never mind a conviction - I can pretty much guarantee that any half decent defence expert would get some one off on such flimsy evidence. I have had conversations with policemen who have had long discussions about whether to continue with much more evidence than that.

    What this thread has shown me is that those who had no evidence on their machines seem to have been let off. Yes it may have not been dealt with as tactfully as maybe they would have liked and they have not received an appology. But what is the alternative - not investigate because you might hurt someones feelings.

  20. Charles Arthur

    a little more..

    I think the point about Bates was that he took a course which he was told was the equivalent of a university degree. But let's see how that settles.

    Cd anyone who wants to get in touch for followup? I'm pretty easy to find online.

  21. bill

    happened to me too

    happened to me too

    You said "I was officially charged "on suspicion of downloading child pornography" and all of my computing equipment (4 pc's, spares and a sun server) confiscated for 5 months! I was completely cleared of all charges and the whole thing was dropped but I spent 5 months without my own equipment - impacting personal and business activities (no more remote access) and was a nervous wreck all that time. I knew I was innocent, but as an Anime fan I was worried what they would think of some of the more graphic material."

    As someone who works in the criminal justice system I read your account with some interest :-

    Actually you can't be CHARGED with SUSPICION of anything – but you can be ARRESTED on SUSPICION of something.

    If evidence was then found you would be CHARGED with POSSESSION or MAKING.

    Which makes me think that your “story” is a work of fiction

    The devil is in the detail.

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