Gardai and FBI target Wicklow paedophiles during series of raids
A number of suspected paedophiles in Wicklow were targeted by gardai in recent days as part of Operation Ketch.
Speaking at Monday's meeting of the Joint Policing Committee Chief Superintendent John Quirke said that gardai had been involved in a special operation to target those involved in child grooming online.
The suspected paedophiles in Wicklow were part of a larger operation which involved gardai from several divisions as well as the FBI in America.
Operation Ketch is focused on targeting those in possession and involved in the distribution of Child Exploitation Material (Child Pornography) either through Social Network sites or via File Sharing Networks.
The operation took place from last Friday until Monday and was led by the Online Child Exploitation Unit (ONCE) at the Garda National Protection Services Bureau.
As part of the intensive investigation a number of searches were carried out under warrant pursuant to the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998 across a number of Garda Divisions. The searches were carried out by newly established Divisional Protection Service Units and local Detective Units.
A total of 31 locations including Wicklow were searched and digital material which included thousands of images were seized for forensic examination. During the raids detectives seized computers and phones containing 'tens of thousands' of images of child pornography in Wicklow, Dublin, Kildare, Limerick, Kerry and Waterford.
Child Protection concerns at all the locations searched have been addressed.
Nobody has been prosecuted yet in respect of the searches but gardai say that arrests are expected over the coming days and weeks.
Gardaí could not confirm as yet whether the children who are in the images were resident in Ireland.
Speaking on Monday Detective Superintendent Declan Daly, of the Garda National Protection Services Bureau, said that the raids 'should serve as a stark warning to those who possess and distribute such imagery'.
Addressing paedophiles, he said: 'Your homes will be searched, your sexual interests in children will be exposed and will ultimately result in a possible prosecution or conviction.'
Detective Superintendent Daly said that the evidence-gathering phase of the operation has now been completed.
'The task of conducting individual investigations involving the examination of media seized and the arrests of the subjects begins now.
'Additionally, the operation should provide a level of assurance to the public of the critical importance placed on child protection by An Garda Síochána.'
Detective Superintendent Daly said that those typically involved in viewing and distributing child abuse images were male, professionals, aged between 25 and 50 and with medium to advanced IT skills.
He said that the common perception of a culprit operating out of a basement, or in a dark room, was often not the case.
Gardai were helped in their investigation by officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the USA, and the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre (NCECC) in Canada in the targeting of these suspects.
Detective Superintendent Daly reminded parents and guardians to maintain good communications with their children surrounding online activity.
'Children should be warned to immediately inform parents or guardians of any suspicious online approaches. If images have been sent or a request for images has been received; don't send (further) images, don't delete anything, preserve the communication and call the Gardaí.'
At the Wicklow Joint Policing Committee Cllr Gerry Walsh said it was a despicable crime and said some paedophiles were targeting young girls online pretending to be young people themselves.
Chief Superintendent Quirke said 'a special operation took place last week to tackle child grooming and we had a couple of homes searched in Wicklow. This is an ongoing investigation. Cases involving the possession of child pornography do take time to bring to fruition and they are very manpower intensive.'
He told the members he would have a presentation on internet security at the next JPC meeting in July.
Alice O'Donnell said there had been a 'huge increase in vigilante behaviour and people making citizen's arrests. They are also videoing this and I feel that this could prejudice any trial. It's important that the gardai are proactive so that citizens aren't taking the law into their own hands.
Cllr Daire Nolan agreed and referred to a case in Arklow where an innocent man was wrongfully accused of being involved in child grooming. 'This man was totally innocent and the public attacked him. It is wrong for citizens to take the law into their own hands. They are also opening themselves to other legal issues. I've no doubt they have good intentions but it can have horrific consequences.'