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Pete Townshend Released After Being Arrested on Suspicion of Possessing Child Porn

Pete Townshend, the legendary rock guitarist and co-founder of The Who, was arrested Monday on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children, police said.

Townshend has acknowledged using an Internet Web site advertising child pornography, but said he was not a pedophile and was only doing research for an autobiography dealing with his own suspected childhood sexual abuse.

The musician was released early Tuesday after questioning at a southwest London police station, Scotland Yard police headquarters said.

"Shortly after midnight he was released on police bail pending further inquiries and will return to the station later in January," a police spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

Standing outside the station, his lawyer John Cohen said Townshend "may be required to answer some questions" later on.

As Cohen spoke, reporters spotted the rock star leaving in a car, lying down on the back seat partially covered by what appeared to be a coat.

Townshend has not been charged with a crime. Under British law, suspects are not charged immediately upon arrest.

Police said they arrested Townshend, 57, under the Protection of Children Act after executing two searches at a business and a home in Richmond, Surrey, the town outside London where he lives. They said they took computers from the home and were examining them.

In a statement on Saturday, Townshend said that on one occasion he used a credit card to enter a site advertising child porn. But he said he was not a pedophile and was only doing research for an autobiography dealing with his own suspected childhood sexual abuse.

He made the admission after a newspaper reported detectives were investigating an unidentified British rock star for downloading child pornography.

In Monday's edition of The Sun newspaper, Townshend emphasized that he did not download the images.

"I have looked at child porn sites maybe three or four times in all, the front pages and previews. I have only entered once using a credit card, and I have never downloaded," The Sun reported Townshend as saying.

Townshend, who helped form The Who in the early 1960s, said in the satement that he believed he was "sexually abused between the age of five and six and a half."

"I cannot remember clearly what happened, but my creative work tends to throw up nasty shadows -- particularly in Tommy. Some of the things I have seen on the Internet have informed my book, which I hope will be published later this year," he added.

The title character in Townshend's rock opera Tommy -- a deaf, dumb and blind pinball wizard -- is sexually abused by an uncle.

Earlier Monday, a group of police officers arrived at Townshend's Richmond home, one carrying a plastic crate containing packaging to store potential evidence.

His lawyer John Cohen told reporters the meeting with police was by "mutual agreement."

"We approached the police this morning and said that we should meet," he said.

Townshend, unshaven and wearing a black jacket, left his house by a side entrance at 7:20 p.m., about four hours after police arrived, and was driven away.

Police later announced that Townshend was in custody on suspicion of making and possessing indecent images of children and of incitement to distribute them.

The arrest came as part of Operation Ore, a crackdown on people who view child pornography on the Internet.

British police have arrested 1,300 suspects as part of the sweep, including a judge, magistrates, dentists, doctors and a deputy school headmaster. Fifty police officers also have been arrested, and eight have been charged with offenses.

Operation Ore is the British arm of an FBI-led operation which traced 250,000 suspected pedophiles around the world through credit card details they used to pay for downloading child pornography. The names of British suspects were passed on to police here by U.S. investigators.

Townshend's friend, the model Jerry Hall, said Sunday he was an "avid supporter" of child welfare groups and had spoken at length about the dangers of child pornography on the Internet.

Daltrey, Townshend's bandmate from The Who, said: "My gut instinct is that he is not a pedophile and I know him better than most."

But Internet watchdogs have dismissed Townshend's explanation for entering an Internet site dealing with child pornography.

Mark Stephens, a lawyer and vice chairman of the Internet Watch Foundation said: "It is wrong-headed, misguided and illegal to look at or download or even to pay to download pedophiliac material and if you do so, you are likely to go to prison."

Townshend was one of The Who's four founding members, along with bassist John Entwistle, singer Daltrey and drummer Keith Moon. Moon died in 1978 and Entwistle died last year.

The group, founded in London in the early 1960s, was part of the British rock invasion along with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Their parade of hits included "I Can See For Miles," "Pinball Wizard," and "Won't Get Fooled Again."

The Who has been known for explosive shows that often culminated in the smashing of their musical instruments on stage.