A year after Bristol police finally started to unravel the ring of paedophiles in the city who had been abusing children for up to twenty years, they came across an informant who opened up a new and alarming line of inquiry.
The man, who himself had a long history of sexually abusing boys, told them that the paedophiles they were investigating had been spending a lot of time in Amsterdam, where they had become involved with a group of exiled British child abusers who had succeeded in commercialising their sexual obsession. They were trafficking boys from other countries; running legitimate gay brothels and selling the under-aged boys ‘under the counter’ and through escort agencies; they had branched out into the production of hard-core child pornography. And they had killed some of them.
One boy had simply been shot through the head, the informant said: he had been causing trouble and had been executed in front of several paedophiles in the basement of a club in the city centre. Another, about whom he knew very little, he believed had been thrown into one of the canals. But the one about whom he spoke the most – the one who seemed to haunt him – was a boy who had been tortured and killed in the most painful and bloody fashion in the course of producing a pornographic video. The informant said he had seen most of the video himself. He said he had vomited before he could reach the end.
The few detectives in Europe and North America who specialise in the investigation of child abuse, invariably say the same thing about ‘snuff movies’: they have often heard of them, sometimes pursued them but never found one. The videos remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of the burgeoning underworld of international sexual exploitation. The Bristol informant’s account was so hideous as to invite disbelief. It was clearly possible that the man was simply inventing the story in an attempt to curry favour with the detectives as they turned over the paedophile culture of the city. And yet, the detectives soon found themselves taking the story seriously, because they discovered that the allegation had been made before. Not just once but repeatedly, evidence of one kind or another had come to the attention of police in England and Holland, indicating that, for their pleasure and their profit, some of the British paedophiles in Amsterdam had murdered boys in front of the camera.
Some of the evidence had been pursued, sometimes with vigour. Some of it had been ignored. None of it had led to a murder charge. For a short while, the Bristol detectives thought they might be able finally to make some progress in tracking down the truth, but when two of them flew to Amsterdam in the autumn of 1998 to pass on their information to Dutch officers, they hit a wall. The Bristol informant had described the flat in Amsterdam where he had seen the video; he had named the owner of the flat who was, by implication, also the owner of the video; he had provided the name and job of the man who carried out the killing; he had described events on the video in grim detail; he had provided the rough age and the first name of the dead boy. The Dutch officers said it was not enough: without the full name of a victim, they would not begin an investigation.
Having fought their way through the swamp of inertia which surrounds the British policing and prosecution of child abuse, the Bristol detectives had now hit the even deeper swamp of virtual paralysis that afflicts the international policing of paedophilia. Within their own jurisdictions, there are now specialist paedophilia detectives – for example, in both London and Amsterdam – who will work relentlessly to lock up predatory child abusers. But when they try to move abroad, this potentially powerful machine starts to misfire.
The result – as the Guardian has found by going into the paedophile scene in Amsterdam and Berlin – is that there is now a flourishing underground trade in boys who are being exported from the economic chaos of Eastern Europe, as well as from the streets of London, to be put to work in the sex industry of Western Europe, particularly Holland. And there is no effective police operation to deal with it. Quite simply: predatory paedophiles glibly cross whatever borders they like in order to pursue their obsessions; the police who might follow them are almost always trapped within their own narrow jurisdictions, partly by differences in law and procedure, partly by sheer institutional frailty, because they lack the manpower and the money to work internationally. There is an exception to this rule of parochialism – in the highly funded war against drugs – but in the perverse world of modern policing, the trafficking, rape and alleged murder of children has a far lower priority.
After speaking to paedophiles and their victims and to police and social workers in Britain, Holland and Germany, we have uncovered the inner workings of an international paedophile ring. Its roots spring from Amsterdam, where, in the late 1980s, a group of exiled British paedophiles set up a colony. Taking advantage of Dutch tolerance towards sexual behaviour, they exploited the freedom of the gay community in the city as cover to enact their fantasies and to make money from them. One of the first to do so was Alan Williams, the ‘Welsh Witch’, who already had a vicious history of abusing boys in south Wales.
Williams arrived in Amsterdam in 1988, aged 21, and soon set himself up as the manager of a gay brothel called Boys Club 21 on the first floor of 21 Spuistraat, near the central station. Across the road at number 44, another British paedophile, a chubby Londoner named Warwick Spinks, then aged 25, was running a similar club called the Gay Palace. Both clubs had a perfectly legal business, running a bar and offering the services of adult male prostitutes who could take customers upstairs to bedrooms. But Williams and Spinks had much wider and crueller interests.
Williams had fled to Holland after being convicted in Britain of indecent assaults on boys. In Amsterdam, he boasted of the day in South Wales when he had seen a ten-year-old boy on his bike, wanted him, grabbed him, raped him and, when he cried, strangled him to death. He liked to show people the video of himself as a teenager in Young Boys Pissing. From Boys Clubs 21, he organised the importing of boys from Cardiff and London, inflicting intense violence on any who defied him. Paul Conibeer, from Cardiff, who eventually managed to run away told us: “He put a contract on me. They were going to put a bullet in my head. Two of my mates came up with black eyes and warned me. I hid in this cafe – they were ripping people out, looking for me.”
Spinks, who has described himself as “an international slut”, had been running a mail-order pornography business from Brighton, East Sussex, before he moved to Amsterdam, where he pioneered the trafficking of boys as young as ten years old into the city’s sex industry. He brought homeless boys from the streets of London and, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, fanned out across Europe importing vulnerable ‘chicken’, as he liked to call them, from the poverty of East Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Having got them to Amsterdam, he used them himself, sold them into the brothels or through escort agencies and put them in front of the camera. Some resisted, some ran away – most were made to comply with the removal of their passports and regular doses of drugs and violence.
By 1990, these two clubs on Spuistraat – together with Boys for Men, De Boys, the Blue Boy and the Why Not – had become the busiest watering hole in the international paedophile jungle. Dutch police at the time estimated there were 250 paedophiles involved in the production of child pornography in Amsterdam with an unknown floating population of child sex tourists from all over the world. A Swiss businessman, for example, was caught in the city with handcuffs, a gag and a large suitcase with airholes in the side; police found a video of him abusing two young girls with electrodes. A wealthy New York attorney was caught ferrying child pornography from Asia. But it was the British who formed the hard core of the new industry: Stephen Smith, who had helped to found the Paedophile Information Exchange, fled there to avoid imprisonment in England; Russell Tricker, now aged 58, a former private school teacher who was convicted of child-sex offences in the UK, moved to Amsterdam, where he used his job as a coach-driver to ferry suitable boys from London; Tricker’s friend, John Broomhall, opened a porn shop on Spuistraat and was caught with more than a thousand copies of videos of under-aged boys; Mark Enfield, now aged 41, sold a video of himself abusing a drugged boy; Andrew Prichodsky, now aged 50, jumped bail in England on the eve of his third trial for child sex offences.
Alan Williams introduced two paedophile friends from Wales, John Gay and Lee Tucker, both of whom were to become central targets for the Bristol detectives. The two men found they could sell Welsh boys into the clubs on Spuistraat at £120 a time and then make more money by investing in the booming business of child pornography. They borrowed money from a paedophile lorry driver in Bristol, bought state-of-the-art video equipment, set up TAG Films, and visited Amsterdam regularly to make porn films, which they sold through distributors in the United States and Germany. At the time, Dutch law said nothing about the possession of child pornography and punished its production with a maximum sentence of only three months.
By October 1990, detectives on the old Obscene Publications Squad at Scotland Yard were picking up worrying signals. An informant told them that someone called Alan Williams was trafficking boys into Amsterdam and that Wiiliams had asked him to smuggle a child porn video back into the UK. Soon afterwards, another informant told how he had smuggled a dozen tapes in the opposite direction: they had been produced, he believed, in a house in North London, which was equipped with a bondage room for boys. He had delivered the tapes in Amsterdam to Boys Club 21, to ‘Alan from Cardiff’. While he was there, this informant said, he had visited the Gay Palace across the road, where he had watched videos of boys in bondage, aged 11 to 14 years old, being buggered by masked men.
Soon, other informants were offering more detail – each new fragment of the picture a little more alarming than the last. One man, who was close to Alan Williams, said he had seen Warwick Spinks selling a special video for £4,000. It showed a boy whom he thought was only eight or nine years old being sexually abused and tortured by two men. But the most startling allegations came from a gay man, Frank, who had gone to Amsterdam in July 1990 and found himself caught up in this paedophile underworld. In 1993, he spoke to the same officers at Scotland Yard.
Frank told how he had met Alan Williams and seen him arguing with a boy from Rotherham who was owed money for four punters he had serviced in Boys Club 21. Williams had offered to pay him in cocaine but refused to pay him in cash and, when the boy had grabbed him and pushed him up against a fruit machine, the club’s security man had thrown the boy out of a first-floor window, breaking his leg. Frank told police of Warwick Spinks’ monthly trips to Berlin, often accompanied by compliant boys from Amsterdam who would persuade reluctant recruits that the clubs in Spuistrat would give them a good life with all the cash and drugs they could use. Spinks told Frank that if he saw a boy who was really cute, he would simply snatch him: “Spinks liked to pay them in drugs, coke and E and speed or even smack. He said it would help him if they got hooked.” He recalled, too, how he had met John Gay and Lee Tucker operating as a camera crew for child pornography.
One day, Frank said, Spinks invited him to come on a trip to the Canaries, delivering three kilos of grass to an old English gangster who had retired there. Frank went and that evening, in the gangster’s bar, Spinks had suggested he should help him sell videos and offered to show him a sample. Frank said he watched in growing horror as the video played out a murder – a boy who seemed to be no older than twelve years old was being beaten and attacked with needles, before being castrated and cut open with a knife. The video seemed to have been shot in a barn in what looked like Dutch countryside, and detectives later learned that Williams and his friends had been talking about making a video in a barn that belonged to a German from one of the Spuistraat clubs.
Scotland Yard were in a difficult position: their informants were British and so was Warwick Spinks, who by this time had left Amsterdam and was living in Hastings, East Sussex; but everything else in the story was scattered round Europe – a video made in Holland but shown in Spain with an alleged perpetrator who was German and a victim of unknown nationality. Still the allegation – supported by the earlier fragments of intelligence – demanded action.
After long negotiations within Scotland Yard and with their counterparts in Holland, the detectives set up Operation Framework and, as the Guardian reported in 1997, they recruited a specialist undercover officer to pose as a child abuser and to befriend Warwick Spinks in England. Over a series of meetings, Spinks took the bate and started to boast about his activities: “I am good at picking up stray chickens… I have been all over the world, I’m an international slut.” He described how he picked up boys in Dresden, in Bratislava in the Czech Republic, and in Poland where, he claimed, they cost only ten pence. “All those chickens with no money, ” he chuckled. In London, he said he was particularly keen on the hamburger bars around Picadilly Circus. And he was full of excitement about Hastings. “The chickens down the coast are very bored, they have got no money, they are not streetwise like Londoners and they spend all of their time in arcades… ”
The undercover officer asked Spinks if he could get him a sado-masochistic video featuring boys as young as ten, and Spinks replied that he knew people in Amsterdam who could. The officer went on to claim that some friends of his had been offered a snuff movie, in which someone was tortured to death, for £6,000. Spinks spoke with the voice of an expert.
“They’re not six grand,” he said. “I know, well I knew some people who were involved in making snuff movies and how they did it was, they only sold them in limited editions, made ten copies or something, ten very rich customers in America, who paid $5,000 each or something like that – which is a lot of money to watch some kids being snuffed. I mean, I steer a wide berth from those people. I know somebody who was in a snuff movie and somebody got snuffed in front of him and he never knew it was a snuff movie. They had tied him up and done terrible things to him and killed him.”
“Did they?” asked the officer.
“And he has been really petrified since, because he was like from Birmingham, middle 20s… I know the person who made the film. I felt sorry for this boy, it was a German boy.”
“How old?” asked the officer.
“About 13, 15. He thought he was going to make 200 guilders and ended up being dead.”
But Operation Framework ended in frustration. Spinks divulged no more about the video and failed to produce a copy of it. Without more evidence, the detectives could not justify the expense of keeping the undercover officer or of sending officers to Amsterdam, where, in any event, they lacked police powers. The Scotland Yard detectives arrested Spinks in Hastings and charged him with adbucting and raping two homeless boys from the streets of London and selling one of them into a Spuistraat brothel. In February 1995, he was jailed at Lewes Crown Court for seven years, reduced on appeal to five.
But the allegation of murder would not go away. As The Guardian reported in 1997, another gay man, Edward, a friend of Frank’s, spoke of his experience of the British paedophiles in Amsterdam. He, too, had mixed with Spinks and Williams and their friends and he claimed to have seen five videos, each featuring the sexual torture and death of a boy. He said their bodies had been dumped in a lake. The Dutch police investigated and said they could no find no evidence to support the claims.
Now, the Bristol detectives have come up with their own informant who has offered yet more evidence. He, too, described the same cauldron of commercialised child abuse, bubbling around Spuistraat. He explained how John Gay and Lee Tucker set themselves up as video pornographers, first taking a group of boys by minivan to an isolated farmhouse in France, and then making visits to Amsterdam to film with the boys there. And he told how, in 1989, he had been alone in a flat which belonged to one of the key figures in the Amsterdam paedophile scene, whom he named; he had found a video and played it and watched in horror as it played out a murder – a boy who was being buggered and beaten before being castrated and cut open with a knife.
At first sight, this informant was describing the same video as the one which Frank saw in the Canaries, and yet its details differ: Frank described a video shot in a barn; the Bristol informant says it was shot in a flat. Frank described the abuse and murder of one boy; the Bristol informant says there was a second boy, who was also being abused and who was still alive at the point when he turned off the tape. And yet, the overlap is striking: the specific nature of the violence is unusual and identical; and the Bristol informant names the man who actually committed the killing – he is the same German whose barn was allegedly picked as a porn studio by the ring of child porngraphers.
Frank and the Bristol informant were certainly involved with the paedophile colony in Amsterdam. So, too, were Spinks and Edward. All four of them were there in 1989/90 and all four separately claim that at least one boy was killed on video. Spinks told the undercover officer that a German boy was killed; Frank says that two Germans disappeared as well as an American; Franks says that Spinks once hinted to him that a German boy named Manny had been murdered; one of the English boys told Operation Framework that a German boy named Manny had gone missing; we have confirmed from talking to boys who worked in Spuistraat at that time that a boy of that name and nationality, then aged 14, disappeared after being caught breaking into a gaming machine at one of the clubs.
The Bristol informant, however, says he thinks the victim of the video which he saw was Dutch, named Marco and probably aged 16. At one end of the scale of possibility, every one of these men may be lying in an attempt to score favours with the police or to cause trouble for other men on the Amsterdam scene, and certainly it was not unusal for boys to disappear from Spuistraat simply because they had had enough of being exploited and ran away. At the other end of the scale, the truth is that one or more boys was killed in a paedophile snuff movie – and the murderers have got away with it. As Spinks told the undercover officer: “I know I’m a fat old queen, but I get away with it. I get away with murder.”
The Bristol detectives can get no further. The Dutch say they will not investigate, and Avon and Somerset police have neither the funds nor the legal power to run their own inquiry in Holland. They have been frustrated not only in their attempt to pursue the allegation of murder but also in relation to a separate statement from one of the Welsh boy victims, who says he was raped at gun point by one of the British paedophiles in Amsterdam. The Bristol detectives arrested the man, but could not even put the allegation to him, because the alleged rape was outside their jurisdiction.
There have been successful paedophilia operations between British and European police. Scotland Yard detectives recently have twice arrested wanted men and extradited them to Holland for trial on child-sex offences. The Bristol detectives, following the activities of Gay and Tucker, led German police to raid a video distributor in Dusseldorf. Within their borders, the Dutch paedophilia unit have arrested several of the key British paedophiles for sexual abuse and the production of pornography and, since January 1996, they have introduced a tougher law, which threatens up to six years in prison for the production of child pornography. But the wider picture is of police being trapped within their borders with the result, we have found, that the European trade in boys for sexual exploitation has grown into an international industry.
The trafficking of boys into Amsterdam’s sex industry continued to grow long after Warwick Spinks left the city in the early 1990s. A couple of years ago, I sat in the Blue Boy club on Spuistraat, amidst the dry ice and the boys in thongs, and flicked through the catalogue on the bar, offering “truly the best boys in town” – East German boys, Polish boys, Dutch boys – and watched a Japanese businessman make his purchase. I spent an evening on Paardenstraat, just around the corner from the tourist cafes on the Rembrandsplein, where the pavement is strewn with garbage and there’s a smell of piss in the air. East European boys sit chewing the skin around their finger nails in the shadows of the three bars – the Festival, the Music Box and the Cupido – waiting for business. One of Alan Williams’ Welsh boys ended up in the Festival Bar. By the age of 16, he was HIV positive and was last heard of in a mental hospital in England.
In search of their origins, I went to Berlin, to the Bahnhof Am Zoo, where the trains arrive from all over Eastern Europe, bringing the destitute in search of a dream. A specialist social worker there, Wolfgang Werner, told me there were some 700 East European boys, aged from eleven to seventeen, who had ended up in the sex industry in Berlin but, to his knowledge, many hundreds of others who had been taken off on a kind of underground railroad which fanned out to Zurich and Hamburg and Frankfurt and, most of all, to Rotterdam and Amsterdam in Holland. Werner told me about the boys from Polish villages who were selling themselves to support families back home who survived on only £30 a month; about the Bosnians who wash up on the banks of the Bahnhof Am Zoo not only financially destitute but also emotionally mutilated; about the steady trickle of lost boys from Turkey and Kurdistan; and about the group of Romanian boys who had been sold by their parents to a wandering Polish criminal, who had paid cash for some and a mere bottle of vodka for another, before putting them on to the streets of Berlin. All now ‘chicken’ for the pleasure of paedophiles.
I went to the cluster of ‘boy bars’ in Fuggerstrasse, fifteen minutes’ walk from the Bahnhof, and saw adolescent East Europeans bartering for trade. Just around the corner, in the PC Inn, Berlin police found Bosnian boys of only 12 on sale to customers. I followed the trail of two men, Peter Goetjes and Lutz Edelman, who have been identified as traffickers in the Berlin press. Eventually, I spoke to a close friend of theirs who shrugged and said, of course, they had been trafficking – it was easy money. They had started in the autumn of 1991 with a couple of boys from the Bahnhof whom they had driven to Holland. They had made a good sale. Yes, one of them was under 16, but who was counting? So they had started making regular runs, sometimes two or three times a week. They must have sold 150 between them, before Goetjes was caught on the Polish border in the summer of 1992 with a boy from a rundown industrial town called Gorzow Wielkopolski in his boot. He was charged with smuggling, released on bail and then simply drove away and never came back for his trial. At about that time, they had stopped trafficking, not so much because of Goetjes’ arrest but because they had been told that some of the boys were being used in snuff movies. There were plenty of others who carried on.
In May 1995, Bjorn Eriksson, then president of Interpol and chief of the Swedish police, told a conference on cross-border crime that organised paedophile networks were operating across European frontiers and that as many as 30,000 paedophiles were believed to be linked to organisations or publications throughout Europe. His warning went unheeded. In the late 1990s, the trafficking of boys from Berlin to Holland hit the north European press when police belatedly tried to find out what had happened to a 12-year-old Berlin boy named Manuel Schadwald who had gone missing on his way home in July 1993. At the time, Berlin police had told his family that he must have run away and they had done nothing. By 1997, however, Dutch journalists had dug out a history of sightings which suggested he had been put to work in a brothel in Rotterdam.
The brothel was one of several in the city which were being run by a German named Lothar Glandorf, now aged 36. After ignoring complaints for 18 months, Rotterdam police finally targetted him and found he had been selling hundreds of boys. Of those they could trace, nearly half were under 16, some by many years. One of them was only nine. Tapping Glandorf’s phones, they heard one customer say “I’m looking for a young boy, a very young boy, a nice little blonde one, who can stay the night”; and another who specified a pre-pubescent boy, “You know, no hair.” This was a kind of slavery. They heard Glandorf tell one boy that if he tried to run away, he would send his family pornographic pictures of him; another was told simply he would be shot in the head.
The Rotterdam police reported: “Even if Glandorf knew the perversions of a customer, he would still send a young boy to a customer who had a sexual preference for sado-masochism. Glandorf had one customer who specialised in deflowering young boys.” In one of Glandorf’s houses, they found an unmailed letter from a Turkish boy called Attila, written to a young girl named Aysum. “Don’t feel sad about me,” he wrote. “Things are the way they are and there is nothing to be done about it. You can do what you want. Don’t be sad.” They found the same boy in a video, with his testicles wired to a whining electrical generator while a Belgian customer abused him.
In the midst of all this, the Rotterdam police were looking for Manuel Schadwald. Three different boys had run away from Glandorf’s world and reported sighting the missing Berlin boy. Police logs which were leaked to the Dutch TV programme Network, reveal that three Rotterdam surveillance officers saw Glandorf with a boy whom all three of them believed to be Manuel Schadwald but they failed to rescue him: the leaked logs suggest that they were reluctant to break cover for fear of jeopardising their operation, asked for urgent advice from senior officers, received none and watched passively as Glandorf drove the boy away in his car. With the Dutch and German press baying for action, police in the two countries finally set about trying to find him – some four years after his disappearance. They failed. Manuel Schadwald has never been found. The last sightings suggested he was working in the dark bars on Paardenstraat in Amsterdam.
The same cross-border weakness persists. Investigating Glandorf, the Rotterdam police found that British paedophiles were routinely using his brothels. They found their names and details in Glandorf’s paperwork: one was crossing the North Sea on a weekly basis. The Rotteredam detectives produced a detailed report, De Handel In Kinderen – The Trade In Children – which the Guardian has obtained. It presents a detailed picture of the trade and of some of its British links, and yet they never even sent a copy to Scotland Yard. Glandorf, himself, had little fear of international policing. When a senior Dutch civil servant phoned him from Poland to say he was bringing back a boy for him, the police phone taps recorded Glandorf saying: “Be careful. When you get to the bridge at the border, let him out so he can go on foot so they can’t catch you.” That was all it took.
Within their borders, the Dutch did better. Having finally targeted Glandforf, they jailed him for five and a half years, and yet the Amsterdam paedophiles remain relaxed and casual about their world. I visited one in his cosy home next to a canal in the centre of the city. He is a chubby bespectacled man with a string of convictions, and he stood in his sitting room, ironing his shirts with considerable care, while he chatted about his hobby – the boys he had had recently, the videos that were on sale, and the trafficking from all over Europe. He didn’t like to think of it as a paedophile ring. “It’s a spider’s web,” he said, “people criss-crossing and finding interests.” In Utrecht, two years ago, I went to the home of Rudy van Dam, the most prolific boy pornographer in Holland and, although at first he pretended to be somebody else, he eventually let me in and sat in his neat parlour, in front of the old oak sideboard, and he talked about his career, apparently quite indifferent to the video-editing equipment behind his head, pouring out a constant stream of soundless boy pornography.
Van Dam is dead now. So is Alan Williams, a victim of AIDS and heroin. John Gay and Lee Tucker were jailed by the Bristol detectives, although Tucker jumped bail and was last seen heading for Amsterdam. The Berlin traffickers, Goetjes and Edelman, were never prosecuted. Warwick Spinks absconded from a London probation hostel before the end of his five-year sentence, ripped off several credit card companies on a spending spree in the boy bars in Fuggerstrasse in Berlin before settling in Prague. Some of the other key figures from Holland have joined him there, apparently drawn to the easy supply of vulnerable boys and the lack of police activity. Lothar Glandorf from Rotterdam served only four years of his sentence and is free again. In their report, the Dutch detectives noted that as soon as Glandorf and his men had been arrested, “other club owners moved in immediately.” The trains still pull into the Bahnhof Am Zoo with their consignment of vulnerable children. The international boy business is alive and well.