Twenty-seven year old Philip Thompson, a self-taught British computer expert, used his skills to moderate an invitation-only website forum. It featured 'borderline illegal' images of children playing in their underwear.
Police said the gateway site was used to prove users had a perverted interest in children, and once users were accepted as members they would then be linked up to other more secretive online environments.
It was here that thousands of more disturbing images and videos, as well as information about vulnerable children, were exchanged.
The capture of Thompson, of Stockton-on-Tees, Cleveland, has saved 15 children from the clutches of the paedophile ring and led to dozens more arrests.
Police have so far pinpointed 360 suspects involved in this global trade of child pornography.
Thompson, who lived with his mother, pleaded guilty to 27 charges, including 16 counts of making indecent photographs of children, seven counts of distributing indecent photographs of children and one count of causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity.
After Scotland Yard alerted the government-run Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOPC) to the forum, unemployed Thompson was identified as one of the site's kingpins. At 5pm on February 12, officers smashed down the door to his home.
Prosecutor Harry Hadfield told Teesside Crown Court: "The defendant's role was to police the website, which gave him the opportunity to transfer these images to his computer.
"The evidence recovered from his computer showed he had amassed a vast collection of indecent photographs of children.
"It appeared the defendant kept some of the most serious images to use as trading chips."
Of the near 250,000 images on Thompson's computers, more than 3,000 were of levels four and five - the worst kind of child abuse images.
"The Crown would say that this collection of indecent photographs and the subsequent police investigation revealed that this defendant has been involved in the distribution of these photographs for the last four or five years," Hadfield said.
He added that 51 arrests had been made as a result of the investigation into Thompson and inquiries were continuing.
The international child abuse network was infiltrated by police in the largest deployment yet of undercover officers in the UK used in a child protection inquiry.
Jim Gamble, chief executive of the CEOPC, said: "This website, whilst appearing to operate on the margins of legality, was clearly a front for the sinister, sexual abuse of children and an image trading ground for paedophiles.
"There is a simple message for those individuals like Thompson, who think they can go to this website - or indeed any space on the internet - and discuss their sexual interest in children and share images.
"You leave a digital footprint. We will track you down and hold you to account."
Sentencing Thompson, Judge Michael Taylor told him he must serve at least three years and nine months before he is considered for release. He added: 'Over a period of four or five years you amassed a total of something like a million pictures on your computer of young children.
'Of those in excess of 240,000 images were indecent. There were 767 movies varying in length but up to an hour long.
'Some of those movies show dreadful, graphic depictions of young children being raped in the most dreadful of circumstances, held down and subjected to pain and distress, crying out.
'Not only did you play a pivotal role both nationally and internationally in the exchange of this material but you, as a result of three counts on this indictment, abused a child of whom you were in a position of trust.
'That shows in my mind that you were somebody who was prepared to go to the most extreme lengths to feed your lust. You are a very dangerous individual indeed."