By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated January 13, 2003 08:27 AM
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Who guitarist Pete Townshend could face criminal charges in England for viewing child pornography Web sites, despite claiming that he did so for research purposes, according to British press reports.

The musician, 57, has admitted using his credit card to view an American subscriber-only network that provided a gateway to international child pornography sites. But he denied being a pedophile, saying he had been researching a book that would refer to his experiences of sexual abuse as a child.

The guitarist, a father of three, also said he was acting as an Internet vigilante, reports Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

In a statement, Townshend said, “I do not want child pornography to be available on the Internet anywhere at any time.”

Townshend is being investigated along with 6,500 other Britons who allegedly subscribed to the world’s biggest Internet child pornography network, run by a Texas couple, Thomas and Janice Reedy. The Reedys were jailed last year.

So far, more than 1,200 men have been arrested in connection with the inquiry, including 50 police officers, say reports.

Mark Stephens, vice-chairman of the Internet Watch Foundation, told the Telegraph, “(Townshend) may have been curious, and many people are, but it’s a high-risk game and he’s not stupid. What he has done is incredible naivete at best.”