Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Minister charged

Methodist minister from Norfolk faces child porn charges as part of Operation Rescue
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
6:30 AM

A Norfolk Methodist minister and former teacher has been arrested as part of an operation which police say has shut down the largest internet paedophile ring yet discovered.

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Rev Philip Hilstrop, 60, of The Warren, Cromer, has been charged with 16 counts of possession of indecent images of children after police raided his home and seized a computer hard-drive and DVDs. The images range from low level category one images to level four images towards the higher end of the scale.

Mr Hilstrop was arrested in November but his alleged involvement has only now come to light following the completion of Operation Rescue led by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop). He was formally charged on March 10.

The operation focused on a global forum which had 70,000 followers at its height. So far 670 suspects and 230 abused children have been identified. Detectives say 184 people have been arrested, 121 of them were in the UK.

Mr Hilstrop took charge of Cromer Methodist church in 1999 after teaching in primary schools in Bethnal Green, London. He was heavily involved in community life, including working as chaplain for Cromer’s Air Training Corps.

While investigators do not believe he had frequent contact with children, Norfolk police have contacted parents of children he worked with to inform them of the allegations.

The EDP understands Mr Hilstrop has been suspended from his role although members of the congregation had been told he was absent due to “ill-health”.

One member of the congregation said: “He has been missing for some time and I thought something must be wrong but I never imagined it would be anything like this.

“He came across as being extremely compassionate and someone who cared deeply about the community. I am utterly shocked by these charges.”

Rev Graham Thompson, East Anglia District Chairman, said: “Philip Hilstrop was suspended from all ministerial duties within the Methodist Church the day he was arrested on November 6 2010.

“The case is sub-judice at this time. Philip is due to appear in court on March 31. We ask for people to respect the privacy of all those affected, and we hold them in our prayers.”

Originally from Leeds, Mr Hilstrop trained at London’s Royal College of Music and had hoped to pursue a career as a professional singer. He became a music teacher in the East End of London and worked in various schools for more than 20 years.

At the age of 43 he retired from teaching to become a pastor of Woolwich Congregational Church and after five years applied for the Methodist ministry.

Speaking at a news conference at The Hague in the Netherlands last week, investigators said the network hid behind a legal online forum which operated out of the country - but its members came from around the world.

Along with the Netherlands and the UK, suspects have been identified in Australia, Italy, Canada, New Zealand and Thailand.

The members of the network went into a private channel and then used its secret systems to share films and images of abused children, said Rob Wainwright, director of European police agency Europol.

However, child abuse investigators, including a team from Ceop, had already infiltrated the network and were posing as paedophiles to gather intelligence.

In the UK, the 240 suspects include police officers, teachers and a karate teacher. One of the suspects in the UK is a woman.

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