EXCLUSIVE: How demand for child porn has surged this year, crashing the dark web sites hosting abuse material and seeing arrests DOUBLE – as cops ‘bust the biggest paedophile ring in Australian history and save 46 kids’
- Sick dark web child abuse forums are crashing due to demand during Covid
- Traffic to the perverted sites more than doubled at the beginning of the year
- Number of alleged offenders arrested by the AFP has likewise doubled
- Offenders get picked up with 80,000 images compared to 1,000 a decade ago
- Comes as AFP arrests 14 men and rescue 46 children in landmark operation
- The men include a library assistant and a soccer coach and are before the courts
Dark web child sex abuse dens have crashed because of a huge spike in demand during the Covid pandemic.
Detectives witnessed online traffic to sick forums more than double between February and April, when the coronavirus crisis began, compared with the same time last year.
Christopher Woods, the acting commander for the Australian Federal Police ‘s northern command for child protection and human trafficking, confirmed to Daily Mail Australia that officers across Australia were seeing sites hosting online child sex abuse material crashing due to the increased volume of traffic.
The disturbing revelation comes amid a major bust where 14 men were arrested and 46 children rescued from the clutches of an alleged global child sex ring.
Commander Woods said the number of alleged offenders arrested by the AFP has almost doubled.
Federal law enforcement arrested 57 offenders between March and September last year – but 130 during the same period this year.
Squalid scenes at the home of a Cairns alleged paedophile, 50, upon his arrest last month for allegedly sharing child abuse material on the dark web. The man, who cannot be named, was charged following a tip-off from the German National Police
This week, the AFP announced officers had dismantled an online child sex abuse ring by arresting 14 men and rescuing 46 children . The operation was launched after the arrest of a 30-year-old man in Wyong on the NSW Central Coast in February (pictured)
Police officers search the home of a suspect involved in an alleged child exploitation ring, above. The men arrested during Operation Arkstone face 828 charges in total between them
Commander Woods said the AFP witnessed traffic surge to dark web forums during the ‘early stages of COVID-19.’
‘The AFP witnessed traffic to dark web forums offering child abuse material more than double to the same period in 2019,’ he said.
‘There continues to be a significant increase in the number of child abuse material files downloaded on the dark web, particularly since COVID-19 restrictions were implemented.’
Officials have recently warned that sex offenders have used lockdown restrictions to take advantage of vulnerable children who have been spending more time online, often grooming them through direct messages.
The long-term trends were already disturbing enough before the virus hit.
Mr Woods said the average number of images found on offenders by police has surged from 1000 in the early to mid-2000s to between 10,000 and 80,000 images and videos now.
The alarming figures come as the AFP revealed 46 babies and children had been rescued as a result of the arrest of 14 men nationwide, as part of a massive alleged child exploitation network.
The men from NSW, Queensland and Western Australia are accused of preying on children between the ages of 16 months and 15 to produce and upload child abuse material to a range of online platforms.
The men range in age from 20 to 48 and include a childcare worker, volunteer soccer coach and disability support worker.
How an alleged abuse ring was brought undone
When police arrested a video librarian at a home in Wyong, on the NSW Central Coast in February they had no idea the alleged horrors they had stumbled upon.
Detectives pounced on Justin Radford, 29, after a tip off from U.S authorities who believed he had allegedly filmed himself abusing two young children.
But an examination of his phone revealed those alleged crimes were just the tip of the iceberg.
What forensic detectives allegedly uncovered was a horrific network of other offenders.
That started led to the start of Operation Arkstone and now the arrest 13 other men.
Radford’s phone allegedly contained links to an international child abuse syndicate stretching across Australia and the world, with alleged victims in NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, Europe, Asia and the U.S.
Last week, 46 children – including 16 from one single Australian child care centre, the youngest of who was just 16 months – were rescued from the depraved ring’s grasp.
Justin Radford – a TV library assistant for the major networks – was the first of 14 men charged with child abuse offences under the Australian Federal Police’s Operation Arkstone
Police stumbled across the alleged child sex ring after looking through Radford’s phone following his arrest
Radford allegedly used a child under 14 to make child abuse material and incited a child under 16 into a sexual act, while also possessing videos of child abuse on his phone.
The alleged tattooed and spacer-disk earring wearing paedophile described himself on LinkedIn as having worked as a tape library assistant for Channel Nine since 2017.
But he was actually working for a company called NPC, a joint venture between Nine, Seven and Southern Cross Australia. He is no longer employed by NPC.
Shortly after police swooped on Radford and forensic detectives began to comb his phone, they realised he had links to another alleged ring member in Kendall.
The small town on the NSW mid north coast is the last place missing toddler William Tyrrell was seen in 2014.
Police converged on the town and arrested Timothy Luke Doyle, 27, and his partner Steven Garrad, 22.
A former childcare worker, police allege Doyle had videoed children in his care and hit him with 303 charges.
Those close to Garrad have been threatened since his arrest.
During a court hearing for his matters last month, an application by Garrad’s family member for his name to be suppressed was refused.
‘In the evidence of [a family member], she says that people are entering her front yard,’ his solicitor Douglas Hannaway said, The Mid-North Coast News reported.
‘On five occasions, people came to her home during the night and turned the electricity off. People came into the yard and banged on the side windows.’
But despite their pleas, Magistrate Georgina Darcy ruled both Garrad and his also jailed boyfriend Doyle could be identified.
Police have been clear that those arrests are not linked to the hunt for Australia’s most infamous missing persons case.
Pictured for the first time is childcare centre worker Timothy Luke Doyle who faces 303 charges
Detectives linked to Operation Arkstone also arrested Doyle’s boyfriend Steven Garrad (right)
Police search the home of a suspect involved in an alleged child exploitation ring in Australia
Pictured: An iPad seized by Federal Police during investigations in Queensland
As police continued to investigate the ring, they relied on the encrypted messenger service used by the group to communicate.
While Radford was based in NSW, they discovered he was talking to men across the country.
Among them was a 28-year-old from Hervey Bay who was arrested in May.
From there investigators allegedly discovered links to Grant Harden, 29, and in June this year arrested him at his western Sydney home.
Harden, from St Clair, has been charged with offences including raping a child under the age of 10 between 2017 and 2020.
Grant Harden, 29, has been charged with sexual offences
He has also been charged with three counts of intentionally sexually touching a child, and charges relating to possessing and distributing child abuse material.
Court documents seen by Daily Mail Australia also allege that Harden ‘did commit an act of bestiality with an animal… two dogs’.
Two days later, officers arrested an air conditioning mechanic, 48, allegedly known to Harden, after finding child abuse images and video on that man’s computer.
The hunt continued in October when a 40-year-old man from Pialba – a town only a few minutes drive from Hervey Bay – was arrested.
Jake Caldwell, 27, was then arrested in November and charged with four offences related to possessing and accessing child abuse material.
In total, 828 charges have been laid against the group.
The unnamed members include a retail assistant, supermarket employee, a chef, disability support worker, electrician and a court officer.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale said at the time detectives believe they have uncovered one of the biggest domestic child exploitation networks of recent years.
She said police would allege in court that some of the nine accused men had sexually abused children known to them and recorded videos and photographs of the abuse to share with others online.
‘We are continuing to try to identify other children who we suspect were preyed on by individuals in the alleged network,’ she said.
Police have since arrested more suspects (pictured) and laid a total of 828 criminal charges in what they believe is an online domestic paedophile network
Operation Arkstone has seen arrests made across Australia and also in New Zealand, Europe, Asia and the United States (pictured)
Pictured: Australian Federal Police officers seized a USB during their investigations
Pictured: Two mobile phones seized by investigators during Operation Arkstone
‘It is heartbreaking to think of any child being sexually abused, but it strengthens our resolve to hunt down perpetrators and bring them to justice.’
Of the victims rescued this month 39 are from NSW, six are in Western Australia and one is in Queensland.
AFP acting commander Christopher Woods said investigators from the AFP, NSW Police and U.S. Homeland Security have spent most of 2020 working tirelessly on the operation.
But the busts are potentially not yet over, with police believing the latest arrests will link them to even more extended members of the depraved child sex ring.
‘Operation Arkstone is not over,’ Justine Gough, AFP Assistant Commissioner Eastern Commander said.
‘We’ve not ruled out further arrests in Australia or offshore.
‘Or sadly the identification of further victims in Australia and offshore. Our agencies are united and committed to chasing every lead and leaving no stone unturned.’
Police have rescued 46 Australian children – including 16 from a child care centre – in one of the biggest alleged child sex abuse cases to rock the country