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Online business venture 'was never meant to be a child porn site'

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: June 11, 2011

  • SENTENCING DUE: Ian Frost.

  • Lincolnshire couple Ian Frost, left, and Paul Rowland.

  • Paul Frost, left, and Ian Sambridge.

AN ONLINE network giving 1,300 paedophiles in 45 countries access to shocking images of children was "never meant" as a gateway to child pornography, a court has heard.

The online subscription service operated out of the tiny hamlet of Martin Dales, near Woodhall Spa, had been meant as a business venture and not a means to trade indecent images of children, Nottingham Crown Court was told.

The network was shut down following a four-year investigation involving Lincolnshire Police and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP).

Ian Anthony Frost, 35, of the village, brother Paul David Frost, 37, of the Sheffield area and Ian Richard Sambridge, 32, of St Albans, all pleaded guilty to distributing indecent images of children at an earlier hearing.

Ian Frost's partner Paul Dean Rowland, of the village, also pleaded guilty to the same charge as well as making and possessing indecent images of children during the same hearing.

A further charge of making 144 indecent images of children and one of possessing indecent images were asked to be taken into account alongside his other charges at the court yesterday.

Speaking for Ian Frost, David Farrell QC said his client had set up the subscription-based internet service with "naive ideas" on how it would operate.

"This defendant did not produce or make indecent images of children," said Mr Farrell.

"He had no real knowledge of the volume of the indecent images of children before the proceedings started.

"He did not monitor nor did he view the material himself. He wasn't deliberately providing access to this type of material. His intention was to provide uncensored access to all newsgroups for all users."

During the hearing, the prosecution said newsgroup websites, including AthenaNews.com, operated via a server in New York had netted the four defendants more than £2 million between 2002 and 2009.

But barristers for the defence said the profits were "far smaller".

Speaking for Paul Frost, Maureen Baker QC said: "He understood that the reason he was introduced was to propagate certain websites for the re-selling to increase the number of subscribers. His description as 'administrator' is a grandiose title."

She said he had believed there was a "filter" in place on all the newsgroups to cut out offending words or phrases that might have led to paedophiles being able to access indecent pictures of children.

The hearing the previous day had heard from the prosecution that Sambridge had "deliberately" selected keywords to be used in ads on Google which would be used by paedophiles to hunt down shocking images of children.

But in defence, his team said Sambridge had "no control" over what was distributed via AthenaNews through his subscription company Corenews.com.

The court heard Rowland received the additional charges after police discovered posts on an online forum where he talked about "struggling for years" with his feelings towards young boys.

Speaking for Rowland, Nigel Godsmark QC said: "Paul Rowland has a problem and he knows he has a problem. He knows it is wrong and he is frightened of why this is.

"In relation to the business, there is no creation of images, no posting of images."

Justice Calvert-Smith said he would consider the case over the weekend, saying: "This is a difficult case and the first of its kind."

The four defendants will be sentenced on Monday.

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