Photograph Ed Sheeran
A woman and four men were jailed today for their part in an international paedophile ring which committed "horrific'' crimes against two young children in the UK and one in Australia.
Ringleader Robert Hathaway, 37, of Tyseley Road, Portsmouth, Hampshire, was given an indeterminate sentence of 12 years at Portsmouth Crown Court while his partner Melissa Noon, 30, received four years.
Judge Roger Hetherington told Hathaway he would not be released from prison for a minimum of six years and not until the parole board deemed him no longer to be a danger to children.
The three other defendants became involved by meeting the couple over the internet to carry out the abuse.
Stephen Fraser, 42, of Hemingford Road, Cambridge, was sentenced to four years with an extended licence period of six years; Simon Hilton, 29, of Wolsey Road, north London, was imprisoned for four years with an extended licence period of six years; and Lee Parson, 38, of Arundel Street, Portsmouth, was jailed for three years.
A six-week trial heard that the two young children in the UK were repeatedly abused by the group, who used a nudist website as a guise for their perversions.
Hampshire police launched their investigation into the ring after being tipped off by the authorities in Australia, who had uncovered a "mirror image" ring in Brisbane and Sydney which also abused at least one young child.
Hathaway had been in contact with this ring and shared images with them and one of the charges faced by Noon was for encouraging the Australian child to engage in sexual activity.
A total of 2,000 pages of chat logs were uncovered by police, as well as 14,000 indecent images of children and 300 videos of children being abused.
The abuse included offences of rape and sexual assault as well as forcing the children to engage in naked games of Twister and wrestling.
As Kerry Maylin, prosecuting, described the offences committed by the defendants, tuts and sighs of disgust could be heard from the packed public gallery.
She said the victims were "systematically and repeatedly" raped by Hathaway and sexually assaulted on a daily basis.
The abuse was documented with thousands of photographs and videos, some as long as 42 minutes, which were distributed by Hathaway over the internet.
These included the abuse being carried out while the victims watched children's television programmes and during bedtime stories, when they were seen to be reading books such as In The Night Garden.
Some of the abuse was streamed live over the internet using webcams to paedophiles around the world who would reassure the victims that the behaviour was "normal''.
Miss Maylin said that among the videos of abuse found on Hathaway's computer was a cartoon in the style of The Simpsons aimed at training children in the ways of sexual abuse.
Describing Noon's role in the abuse, she said that as well as taking photographs of the offences for distribution on the nudist website that she ran, she also became involved, for example by taking part in the naked game of Twister with one of the victims.
Also, in a webcam conversation, she told the Australian victim to strip naked before telling the girl that she was her "little sweet princess''and she had an "adorable body''.
When the girl asks to leave the conversation, Noon tells her: "Don't you go, I'm just getting hot.'' Miss Maylin said Noon was clearly``sexually excited''.
In another internet conversation about child abuse with a female paedophile in Australia, Noon tells her that one of the UK victims ``does not understand what this type of love is, she's too young, I will keep teaching her''.
Speaking after the case, Miss Maylin said:
"This was a horrific case of systematic child abuse where the defendants subjected children as young as four to atrocious acts of sexual abuse and encouraged others across the world to commit similar offences.''
Paul Walker, defending Noon, said she had learning difficulties and had an IQ of between 61 and 69, putting her in the bottom 1% for her age.
He said: "What that means is she is more vulnerable to manipulation and coercion.''
He added that if it had not been for the influence of Hathaway's "manipulations'', Noon would not have become involved in child abuse.
Stephen Smyth, defending Hathaway, said his client suffered depression and had been vulnerable to "outside influences'' since the death of his mother when he was eight and his father when he was 10.
"In his grey and miserable life, there was really nothing other than sex.''
Jennifer Knight, defending father-of-two Parson, said he had an unhappy upbringing with his father who was an alcoholic, and his wife who was abusive and violent towards him.
Andrew Turton, defending Hilton, said he was suffering depression and had been lonely following a recent relationship breakdown.
He added that the IT consultant had become isolated in his work and social life which revolved around the internet, meaning "he was living a virtual life in a virtual world''.
David Reid, defending Fraser, said his client accepted he had a sexual interest in children and was aware of the damage he had caused the children.
He added that he had stopped offending on his own accord as his serious offending had made him realise that what he was doing was wrong.
Mr Reid said:
"The most serious offences were, for him, a trigger. He describes it as making him sit up and realise the seriousness and he had no further contact.''
Jon Brown, head of strategy and development for sexual abuse at children's charity NSPCC, said:
"This case highlights the depths to which some individuals will sink to produce these appalling images. The internet has made it much easier for people to access this kind of material so stopping this terrible trade is a huge task. Every day babies and children are being assaulted and raped to feed the apparently insatiable demand for indecent photos and videos. And each time they are viewed, more degradation is heaped on the young victims.
"Around one in three of those convicted of possessing child abuse images has also committed other serious sex offences against children. So it's vital these people are identified and brought to the attention of the authorities. Just as importantly, the young victims must get therapeutic treatment to help them overcome their terrible ordeals.''
Noon was sentenced for 13 charges, which were three counts of causing a child to engage in sexual activity, one of causing a child to watch a sexual act, two of sexual assault of a child, two of arranging a child sex offence, one of inciting a child in Australia to engage over the internet in sexual activity, two of possessing indecent photographs of children, and two charges of cruelty to a child.
Hathaway was sentenced for 45 offences, including two charges of rape of a child, four of sexual assault of a child, 15 of causing a child to engage in sexual activity, two of distributing indecent images of children, and one of possessing prohibited images of children.
The other offences were one charge of engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child, three of arranging a child sex offence, four of making indecent photographs of children, and 13 of possessing indecent photographs of children.
Parson was sentenced for one charge of arranging a child sex offence, three charges of possessing indecent photos of children, and one of taking indecent photos of children.
Fraser was sentenced for 27 charges including one offence of sexual assault of a child, two of causing a child to engage in sexual activity, one of engaging in sexual activity in front of a child, and one charge of arranging a child sex offence.
The other offences were two counts of possessing extreme pornography, one of making an indecent image of a child, and 19 of possessing indecent images of children.
Hilton, a graphic designer, was sentenced for one charge of arranging a child sex offence and 13 other offences.
These were made up of three charges of sexual assault of a child, two of arranging a child sex offence, two of causing a child to engage in sexual activity, five of possessing indecent images of children, and one of possessing extreme pornography.
A further four defendants are to be sentenced for their part in the abuse next month.