Times, The (London, England)-November 24, 1994
Author: Wolfgang Munchau in Brussels
A BRITON accused of being at the centre of a paedophile ring that procured child prostitutes for clients all over the world went on trial in a Belgian court yesterday.
John Stamford, 55, was charged after police raided his premises last year in the small Belgian town of Geel near the Dutch border, and, it is alleged, found a cache of paedophile magazines. Publication and distribution of such material is illegal under Belgian law, but carries a maximum prison term of one year.
However, in addition to the relatively minor criminal charge, Mr Stamford faces a parallel civil action in the same court brought by four human rights organisations, alleging that the magazine acted as the front for Club Spartacus, an international paedophile ring with an estimated 30,000 members. The court at Turnhout, near Belgium’s border with The Netherlands, was told that Mr Stamford operated under the public front of Spartacus, a gay travel magazine that has been published since 1970 and has a circulation of 60, 000.
If the civil rights organisations, led by the Swiss-based group Terres des Hommes, succeed with their action, Mr Stamford could face a prison term of between ten and 20 years after another criminal trial.
The groups allege that Club Spartacus was a sophisticated and clandestine organisation that operated through a box number in London. The details of each of the members, including their sexual preferences, the desired age of the children and preferred countries of origin were stored on a computer, each entry guarded with a secret code.
The members received personalised “lists” of children, mainly outside Europe. The client would then select a child and indicate his choice to a local middleman. In one of the documents obtained by Terres des Hommes, Mr Stamford offers “boys of every age, shape and type”, adding that “between January and May 1978 I personally tested lots of these boys”.
Another extract was even more explicit. “Children are available from the age of puberty, or even before. Despite legislation on the protection of minors, nobody has any objections. The majority of the hotels charge you more if you want a European for the night, but not in the case of a Filipino.
“You enter the hall with your boy, you take your key, and you go directly into your room.” However, the evidence collected by the human rights groups has not yet convinced prosecutors to bring more serious criminal charges at this stage. As a consequence, they have used a Belgian legal procedure which allows them to take action under civil law. The case could set a legal precedent as Belgium does not yet permit prosecution of crimes committed outside the country’s borders.
Germany changed its laws last year to allow prosecution of Germans who travel to Southeast Asia for child-sex tourism. Mr Stamford, who had previously lived in Germany, moved to Belgium after the change in the German law.
In Britain the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 increased penalties and police powers to tackle child pornography and paedophilia. The Act gives police power to arrest without warrant a person suspected of child pornography. It also increases the penalties for possessing indecent photographs of children, making it an imprisonable offence (up to six months’ jail and fines of up to Pounds 5,000). Sentences handed down by the courts in Britain for paeodophilia-linked offences can be equal to life terms.