Scotland Yard police headquarters announced that a 57-year-old man was being held in custody on suspicion of making and possessing indecent images of children and of incitement to distribute them. A police spokesman confirmed privately that the suspect was Townshend.
The rock guitarist, who said Saturday he had looked at child pornography on the Internet while researching a book, has not been charged with a crime. Under British law, suspects are not charged immediately upon arrest, and some people who are arrested are eventually released without charge.
Police said they had arrested Townshend under the Protection of Children Act after searching a business and a home in Richmond, Surrey, the town outside London where he lives. They said they had taken computers from the home and were examining them.
Townshend was being held at a southwest London police station, and could be released later Monday, Scotland Yard said.
The legendary guitarist said in a statement Saturday he had used a credit card to download child pornography. He insisted he was not a pedophile and had only used the porn site once while 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.
Townshend, who helped form The Who in the early 1960s, said 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.
His 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 of them 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.
Friends rallied to defend Townshend after his admission Saturday.
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.
Roger Daltry, Townshend's bandmate from The Who, said: ``My gut instinct is that he is not a pedophile and I know him better than most.''
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 Daltry 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.