Global pedophile ‘dark net’ bulletin board busted from Australia
Queensland's Taskforce Argos targeting child abuse disclosed a clandestine pedophile ring, saving potentially hundreds of children from sexual exploitation, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Members of the ring residing in Australia, Europe, United Kingdom and the US ranked inside the network in accordance with the quantity and originality of materials they uploaded for common use inside the site. The name of the network, using encryption software to hide identities and mask people's browsing history, has not been publicly disclosed by a South Australian District Court.
Investigation of a global child abuse led Argos to Australian national ringleader, who turned out to be Families SA (South Australia) employee Shannon McCoole from Adelaide. He was childcare worker with the agency from 2011 to 2014.
McCoole was busted thanks to the unusual 'hiya' greeting he used on the web, which led to police finding a Facebook page with a photograph of a Volkswagen four-wheel drive utility with a visible registration plate, which in turn led them to McCoole.
“He was a 32-year-old male. Lived alone, no real relationship or no recent partners from what we've gathered,” the ABC cited Detective Brevet Sergeant Stephen Hegarty of SA's Sex Crimes Investigation Branch. And the man “immersed himself in child-related work” as well.
After four days of surveillance police knocked at McCoole’s door and arrested the suspect. The jackpot was found on his computer, which stored over 50,000 child porn images.
Metadata on McCoole’s camera was also used as evidence, as well as a freckle on his finger which matched one of the child abuse images discovered by Danish police in May last year that initiated the actual criminal proceedings in Australia.
Once McCoole was taken out of the game, police officers replaced the administrator in the pedophile ring and began the second stage of the operation, working 24-hours a day to expose as many pedophiles around the world as possible.
“Phase two was to take over the network, assume control of the network, try to identify as many of the key administrators as we could and remove them,” Detective Inspector Jon Rouse told ABC.
“This wasn't an 8am-4pm, Monday-to-Friday operation. Even when the guys knocked off work we were all communicating outside work,” Rouse said.
“Ultimately, you had a child sex offender network that was being administered by police,” he added, stressing that the first thing done was closing membership of the board.
This stage lasted for whole 10 months and resulted in identification of pedophiles in at least three Australian states, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, together with criminals in other countries.
“US, Europe, United Kingdom. [It was] global,” Rouse said.
“This required us engaging with those targets in real time while law enforcement went through doors. [There were] time zone challenges, but good work by authorities across the world,” the ABC cited Rouse.
In August 2015, Shannon McCoole was proven to have sexually abused at least seven children in his care, aged between 18 months and three years, taking pictures and sharing them over the web.
McCoole pleaded guilty to 20 state and commonwealth charges relating to sex with children and child pornography, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Initially Judge Paul Rice, who described McCoole as having “no moral compass” and being “evil and depraved,” had set a 65-year punishment. McCoole's non-parole period has been set at 28 years.
The court heard McCoole, who reportedly came from a good family, told the court it was “hard to explain or understand how I committed these crimes.”
“I have researched why the hell I am the way I am and I just don't know,” McCoole told the court, adding that he had never been sexually abused himself.
To avoid anything similar from ever happening again, certain measures have been implemented, Education Department Chief Executive Tony Harrison informed the ABC.
“We have tightened the recruitment and screening process for prospective staff and strengthened oversight of residential care facilities,” he said. "Candidates for residential care positions now undergo a comprehensive psychological assessment process during recruitment, which includes a face-to-face interview with a registered psychologist.”