Speaking in an interview with VRT News Child Focus’ Heidi De Pauw explains that case come to light “quite by chance”. A police officer noticed a man taking photographs of half-naked children on the beach at Blankenberge (East Flanders).
A short time afterwards police searched the house of a computer specialist that had contact with the man. Detectives found almost 9 million photographs and films of child sexual abuse on the computer specialist’s hard drive.
"Among these were 664 series that had never before been seen by the Belgian police service nor by either Europol or Interpol”, Ms De Pauw added. This is exceptional as normally detectives mainly find images that they have already seen.
"These men were very high up in paedophile circles”.
Five “ordinary men”
Eventually the five men at the heart of the paedophile network were identified. There are the man that took the photographs in Blankenberge, the computer specialist, another Belgian, a Dutch national and a Briton. They are between 28 and 40 years of age. They were detained and remanded in custody awaiting trial.
The scale and extremity of the material they produced was huge.
"As soon as the boys reached the age of 6 or 8 they weren’t interested any more. Horrific images with babies were also found”. The material was distributed anonymously on the dark web. The gang also used WhatsApp and Skype.
All those accused are “ordinary” men. None of the suspects are from the margins of society or have a string of previous conviction for child porn or paedophilia.
They abused their victims in everyday place such as Christmas markets and beaches. Some of their victims were taken on holiday by the men so that they could abuse them.
They abused their victims in everyday place such as Christmas markets and beaches. Some of their victims were taken on holiday by the men so that they could abuse them. A total of 38 victims, all of whom boys, have been identified. The abused boys that have been identified are from Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal and the United States. Thousands more victims have not (yet) been identified. Child Focus is a plaintiff in the case on behalf of the unidentified victims.