Portuguese police held a press conference on Thursday praising the cooperation of law enforcement agencies across the world in identifying the man at the centre of a child abuse network operating on the dark web.
The man – a Portuguese national who went by the username ‘Twinkle’ – was found to be the administrator behind a darknet site called Babyheart which posted images and video of child abuse.
He 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 Babyheart site.
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.
But specialist officers at the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit were working undercover on the dark web to gather intelligence on his identity.
They infiltrated hidden paedophile chat rooms and messaging sites to gather intelligence on Twinkle.
And the information they gathered helped track the offender down to 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.
But at the event Portuguese police broke their silence to thank the West Midlands team along with Europol, Interpol and law enforcement bodies from Austria, France, Italy, Australia, Canada and Brazil who all played a role.
Det Insp Stephen Wills, who heads the investigations arm of the covert team, 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.”