PORTUGUESE police have praised the work of West Midlands police after an international operation to bring down a paedophile ring.
Officers specialised in organised crime identified a Portuguese paedophile who ran a website hosting footage of children being abused.
The West Midlands team worked undercover on the dark web to gather intelligence on his identity.
The man – who went by the username ‘Twinkle’ – sexually abused and raped children and babies aged from just two months to 10 years-old, before sharing images with paedophiles around the world via his site named ‘Babyheart.’
The 27-year-old used advanced encryption and counter-surveillance techniques to avoid detection and often provided false information in online posts and messages in a bid to deflect police off his trail.
With the man identified, Portuguese police arrested him at a scrapyard in Águeda, Portugal, from where he managed the website.
He was arrested on June 20 2017 and examination of his electronic devices identified seven child victims directly related to him.
An accomplice – who used the online pseudonym ‘Forgotten’ – was also found to be involved with running Babyheart and had filmed himself abusing his own daughter, a six-year-old boy and a two-month-old baby.
And on December 23 last year both were sentenced to 25 years behind bars.
The case was kept under wraps until other ongoing investigations were concluded.
Nuno Melo was sentenced to 25 years in prison by the Central Criminal Court in Lisbon.
Accomplice Michael Appleton was also sentenced to 25 years in prison, charged with 75 crimes of the abuse of his own baby daughter.
At a press conference on Thursday (January 23), Portuguese police broke their silence to thank the West Midlands officers, along with Europol, Interpol and law enforcement bodies from Austria, France, Italy, Australia, Canada and Brazil which all played a role.
Detective Inspector Stephen Wills from the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) heads the investigations arm of the covert team.
He said: “His sentencing was the culmination of a year-long investigation by various police agencies across Europe and the world.
“My officers played a very significant part in his conviction: much of the intelligence that led officers to track him down in Portugal was secured by them using covert tactics online to gather intelligence on suspected sex offenders.
“Our officers are looking for people who want to abuse and have sex with children online…and we will go anywhere to find these offenders.
“We want to create an environment of disruption, fear and apprehension amongst people who operate online to sexually abuse children.
“I’m pleased we were able to pay a role in bringing down a prolific child sex abuser.”
Europol’s Deputy Executive Director Operations, Wil van Gemert, added: “The international collaboration in this case led to the successful identification of the suspect, an administrator of a darknet site where the abuse of young children was promoted and encouraged.
“It is essential this type of collaboration continue to enable the identification of the many victims suffering from child sexual abuse and whose abuse is being shared with millions of offenders around the world.”
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