Seventeen children were rescued from sex abuse overseas and 11 adults were arrested when the authorities busted the on-line activities of Drew Webb, who was jailed at the Christchurch District Court today.
Crown prosecutor Pip Currie said the situation was “almost unheard of” as 20-year-old Webb was sentenced on 47 charges.
Those arrested overseas were caregivers, parents, and a kindergarten teacher, who had traded child sexual abuse images with Webb, who was pretending on-line to have a daughter he could abuse.
The mother and father of a six-year-old child were arrested in Scotland and other children were rescued in London.
“Seventeen childen were removed from situations, which is encouraging,” said Mrs Currie. “That goes to put a real face on it, which in these situations doesn’t often happen. Usually they are unknown children in some country where they would never be identified.”
Judge Paul Kellar started with a jail term of 12 years, but reduced it because of Webb’s youth, his co-operation with investigators, his guilty pleas, and for his lack of prior offending, to impose a jail term of six years.
The sentencing may become a benchmark because it is so bad, and because the maximum penalty has been raised from 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment for charges of distributing child sex abuse images.
The images included toddlers and babies. Webb admitted an interest in girls over the age of three, and preferring images of girls aged six to nine.
He had thousands of images and hundreds of videos, including some where the children were being abused in bondage.
“The distress of the children is evident, particularly in the videos,” Mrs Currie said. “When the screaming can be heard in the videos – that takes it to another level.”
Defence counsel Rob Harrison said it was not a huge collection, compared to others, but it was distressing to see. “That it is available on the Internet so readily is also extremely distressing,” he said.
He argued for a starting point for a jail term that was lower than the Crown’s 10 years, before adjustments were made.
Webb’s youth and immaturity meant he had “blithely ignored” the harm he was causing by his actions, said Mr Harrison.
Judge Kellar said Webb had been accessing child sex abuse material since he was 16. He had become involved in chat groups and become an administrator for some on-line communities where people shared images. He was using the “dark Internet” for his activities where encryption hides material and masks users’ addresses. The offending continued until he was 19.
He had pretended to have access to a six-year-old daughter or niece to encourage people in these sessions to commit abuse of children and send him images as part of a swap arrangement.
When he was caught, and his laptop and cellphone were taken as part of the investigation while he was on bail, he had continued to acquire more child abuse material on another cellphone.
Webb said before sentencing: “I didn’t touch anyone. I didn’t harm anyone.”
But Mrs Currie described that as “meaningless and hollow” because of the encouragement he had given to people to abuse children in their care. She also discounted his claim that he hated violence because of the videos depicting violent abuse of the children.
Judge Kellar described the sexual abuse depicted as being “extremely serious, perverted, and devastating”.
He said: “This offending involves real victims. They are very young children who have suffered and will continue to suffer from physical, emotional, and psychological abuse, long after the actual abuse comes to an end.”
The exploitation of children in this deplorable manner would be reduced if there was no-one to view the images.
Webb had pleaded guilty to 47 charges involving offending on the West Coast and Canterbury, or making or copying objectionable publications, distribution and possession objectionable images, making an intimate visual recording, and 21 charges involving exporting and importing images that he took away with him on a visit to Hawaii. He was prosecuted by the police, customs, and the Department of Internal Affairs.