The Court of Appeal has rejected claims that some individuals prosecuted under Operation Ore for incitement to distribute indecent photographs were themselves the victims of credit card fraud.
Operation Ore was a major, long-running investigation by UK police into individuals who appeared on a US-based database – Landslide – that prosecutors claimed was prima facie evidence of their having subscribed to child abuse material.
At issue was the claim by a Mr Anthony O’Shea that his conviction in October 2005 solely on the grounds that his name appeared on that database was unsafe.
In court last month, his lawyers argued that there was significant evidence that many of those who were drawn into the Ore net were only there because their credit card details had been stolen, despite prosecution claims that the only reason that anyone could be on the database was if they had subscribed voluntarily.
In the majority of instances, where police seized computers from individuals in the UK, an amount of child abuse material was found – ranging from a few images to collections of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of images. In a much smaller subset of cases, no images were found: and in some of these, including that of Mr O’Shea, the Crown Prosecution Service took the decision to prosecute on the grounds that the act of subscribing was an incitement to others to distribute imagery.
Clearly, had Mr O’Shea’s name been placed on the database as a result of fraud, then his conviction would have been open to question.
In the event, the Appeal Court found no evidence of any such fraud and therefore concluded that Mr O’Shea’s conviction was safe. Jim Gamble, ACPO lead for child protection, told the Reg:
“Today’s decision by the Court of Appeal draws a line under the efforts of a small number of individuals who, over the past ten years, have perpetuated conspiracy theories about Operation Ore.
“These allegations are unfounded and sought only to undermine an investigation which led to the safeguarding of more than 154 children. UK policing, and formerly the National Crime Squad, has been unable until now to refute these theories publicly due to a desire not to unduly influence pending prosecutions.
“Whilst convicted offenders understandably wish to disassociate themselves from this type of offence in any way possible, the devastating impact of child abuse on its victims must never be forgotten.”
Mr Gamble also drew our attention to two parts of the verdict that he believed to be particularly damning. In paragraph 54 the judgment states: “These suggestions are fanciful in the extreme. The appellant’s theory (for it is no more than such) that he [Mr O’Shea] was the victim of the machinations of a fraudulent webmaster is, in our view, pure speculation.”
The judgement further states in paragraph 43: “We have no hesitation in rejecting this evidence as incapable in belief. It was mere assertion, unsupported by any published or other material or any reasoning.”
We have contacted the appellant’s solicitors for further comment on this case, but have received no response so far. ®