Seven men, including one from East Sussex, have been convicted of more than 30 child sexual abuse offences, including the rape of a child under the age of 13, following an investigation led by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
John Denham, formally known as Benjamin Harrop, 49, from Wiltshire, was found guilty of conspiring to commit sexual assault against a child and possessing and distributing indecent images of children in court yesterday (April 21).
Matthew Stansfield, 34, from Hampshire, was found guilty of conspiring to rape a child under 13.
Matthew Lisk, 32, from East Sussex, Adam Toms, 33, from Somerset, Christopher Knight, 35, from Manchester, Robin Hollyson, 30, from Bedfordshire, David Harsley, 51 from Hull, all pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.
The NCA said it would only provide the counties the defendants lived in “to protect their families”.
The men shared indecent images and videos of children being abused, communicating via social networking forums. Evidence shows that the group’s victims were mainly babies and infants, with at least one victim given stupefying drugs to enable offenders to carry out sexual abuse.
Chat logs obtained corroborate this, with some members offering advice and guidance to others regarding how much drug to administer to a child, depending on their age.
The men have been convicted of offences including the rape of a child under the age of 13, conspiracy to rape a child under the age of 13, sexual assault on a child under 13, sexual activity with a child under the age of 13, administering a substance with intent, making and possessing indecent images of children (IIOC) and breaching a Sex Offender Prevention Order (SOPO).
The victims identified so far were under the age of five at the time the offences were committed.
Three of the men – Robin Hollyson, Matthew Stansfield and David Harsley – are Registered Sex Offenders (RSO’s) after being convicted previously of child sexual abuse image offences.
The investigation began in September 2014 when Adam Toms was arrested by Avon and Somerset police, after admitting that he had sexually abused a child under the age of five. As a result of these admissions, the investigation expanded rapidly which led to the identification of other offenders involved in the organised crime group. Officers were also able to identify three victims – a baby, a toddler and a pre-school age child.
The group was extremely skilled at grooming the families of the victims, in some cases starting before the victim was born.
They would also arrange to meet up in person - often travelling long distances - when access to children was guaranteed. If only one member would have access to a victim, the abuse would be live-streamed to the group. Multiple online identities were used and members would encourage other like-minded individuals to join the group.
To date, 11 people have been arrested in the UK, three victims have been identified and 24 children safeguarded. Over 100 intelligence packages have been shared with international law enforcement agencies in every continent.
NCA officers have worked closely with Avon and Somerset Police, Bedfordshire Police, Humberside Police and Wiltshire Police, and were assisted by Greater Manchester Police, Hampshire Constabulary and Sussex Police, as well as the Crown Prosecution Service and nine local authority child safeguarding teams.
Graham Gardner, Deputy Director of Investigations at the National Crime Agency said, “We rarely see criminal behaviour involving the sexual abuse of children to this degree. This is serious organised crime as its worst and is precisely the type of work the National Crime Agency will be focusing on.
“The men involved in this group actively targeted families to facilitate the sexual abuse of their children, toddlers and babies. The depravity of these men appeared to know no bounds and is without doubt as vile as we have seen.
“The NCA will continue to work with our partners, at home and abroad, to ensure those who abuse children are brought to justice”.
Greg McGill, Head of the Crown Prosecution Service Organised Crime Division, said, “It is difficult to find the words to describe the activities of these men, and the harm that they have done. The families of these children have endured a horrendous ordeal and I would like to thank them for their invaluable assistance in securing these convictions.
“Fortunately, the CPS, NCA and Police forces were able to coordinate a swift and effective response when matters came to light which resulted in the arrest and prosecution of these men. The efforts have resulted in guilty pleas from all involved, followed by further convictions secured after a trial for other offences”.
Help and support
If you, or someone you know is in immediate danger dial 999.
If you are an adult and worried about a child, or if you think you have been a victim of such abuse, you can get help and support by contacting the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. Advice and information if you are worried about the sexual abuse of young children is also available on the NCA website.
Alternatively, if you are a young person and either you or a friend has been sexually abused, you can contact Childline on 0800 1111, or report your concerns to CEOP where trained and experienced child protection workers will read and assess your information and get in touch.
You can also access more information, including how to stay safe online, on the NCA CEOP Command’s Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel. Targeted help and support for parents an teachers can be found on the Thinkuknow website.
Any adult who thinks they have a sexual interest in children and wants help can contact the Lucy Faithfull Foundation via their website or by calling 0808 1000 900.