Investigation helps shut down child pornography sites

A Cayman Islands police investigation led to two international child pornography websites being shut down and prompted criminal investigations as far away as France and Russia.

Detectives in Grand Cayman uncovered a cache of indecent images of children on the cellphone of a man who was convicted of a string of sexual offenses.

The images were traced, through a new partnership with the U.K.-based Internet Watch Foundation, to previously undetected sites hosted in Europe. The intelligence enabled internet watchdogs in those countries to remove the material from the web and prompted law enforcement to begin investigations into those creating the images.

One of the sites, hosted in France, contained category A images, the most serious offense category, involving children between 7 and 10 years old.

The international investigation began with the discovery of the images on the cellphone of Michell Anderson Gambao Garcia, a Colombian air conditioning repairman working in Grand Cayman.

Garcia was jailed for 12 years in September 2016 for sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl and for raping a teenager who was unconscious. He was also charged with possession of more than 1,000 pornographic images.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service analyst who worked on the case sought assistance from the Internet Watch Foundation after discovering multiple websites and other material on the suspect’s phone, according to a police statement this week.

The foundation used its connections to have one of those sites, previously unknown to international investigators, removed from the internet within four days. Another 16 of the sites reported by the RCIPS had already been closed down as a result of other reports.

“This is the type of speed and impact that good international cooperation can have,” said Pete Lansdown, detective superintendent with the RCIPS. “The IWF’s assistance not only saves us valuable investigative time, it enables law enforcement globally to work together much more effectively to stop the circulation of these images. This contributes toward stopping the crimes of sexual abuse they depict.”

The case was highlighted in the Internet Watch Foundation’s annual report published this week. It was also noteworthy because of the use of a “gateway site” – a seemingly innocuous internet “storefront” used to disguise the real purpose of the web page.

In its report, the IWF highlights its support of Cayman’s intelligence analysts during the investigation and confirms that the investigation led to the discovery of two new websites.

“Some of the sites showed child sexual abuse material and included ‘disguised websites’ … [which] can look like legal adult content unless you’ve followed a specific and predetermined pathway to access the site. People use this method to make it difficult to find and investigate the criminal images,” the report notes.

Joanne Delaney, the RCIPS intelligence analyst who worked on the case, said the partnership with the foundation helped police to have an impact beyond Cayman’s borders.

“By reporting that website, we were able to stop that site being used as a ‘gateway’ site. It has been incredibly satisfying for me to know that this referral had such a result.”

On June 1 last year, police in Cayman launched an initiative with the IWF and local media and community partners to host IWF reporting portals on various local websites, through which referrals about child sexual abuse imagery could be made. Since then, 56 reports from Cayman have been received. The reports have been submitted primarily by the police following investigations. However, there have been four reports made anonymously by the public.

The IWF portal can be found at www.rcips.ky.

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