But as Cox was taken from the house in handcuffs, police stepped up their operation. British and Canadian officers immediately assumed Cox's identity and secretly ran the site for 10 days before shutting it down - gathering evidence on the chat room's hundreds of members. Police at no point distributed illegal images, Gamble said.
Weeks later, British police saw the chat room had been resurrected. Working with Canadian, Australian and U.S. authorities in December, they again infiltrated the chat room, working around the clock. Authorities traced the new host to an apartment in Welwyn Garden City, 30 miles north of London, belonging to the 33-year-old Mackintosh, a manager at a video streaming company owned by the Italian Internet company Tiscali.
After he was arrested, police took over his identity and continued to run the chat room, collecting more evidence. Mackintosh told investigators that every few months he was overcome by guilt and would delete all his files, but he was addicted and would start downloading again, Gamble said. He had 5,167 indecent and explicit images and 392 indecent movie files on his computer when he was arrested.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment because their investigation is continuing in at least 12 states, which were not identified. Police in Germany are also investigating two men in connection with the ring, the country's Federal Crime Office said.
It was unclear whether any of the rescued children had been reported missing, but authorities said the investigation was not linked to the widely publicized disappearance of Madeleine McCann, a 4-year-old British girl who vanished nearly two months ago in southern Portugal.
Gamble said he hoped the 10-month operation into the ring would act as a powerful warning.
"Anyone who even thinks about going online to share an image, to view an image, to arrange access to a child or to share live access to a child is now taking a hell of a chance," Gamble said.
Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.