A paedophile at the centre of a Hertfordshire paedophile ring has been handed nine life sentences.
Michael Emerton, 33, formerly of Berkhamsted, was sentenced at Luton Crown Court on Wednesday (December 20) for his role in the rape and sexual abuse of children aged under 13.
And four other men were also sentenced, whilst a fifth will be sentenced on January 24.
The court heard how Emerton was arrested and his computer equipment seized in November 2016, following a year-long investigation that identified hundreds of other suspects and involved international cooperation between law enforcement agencies.
Herts Police swooped after receiving intelligence about Emerton from another police force.
Forensic examination of his computer devices revealed that he had used dating or social media websites such as Grindr, Skype and TruNude to contact other men. He then arranged with four of the other men to stream the live abuse of children via a video link. On other occasions he arranged online to meet them and then together take part in sex acts in front of children.
Emerton pleaded guilty earlier this year to 20 offences, including four counts of rape of a child and three of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.
He was given seven life sentences for these offences on March 23, with a minimum term of 10 years to be served. This can only be reported now, after reporting restrictions were lifted by the courts.
Emerton later admitted further offences including conspiring with the other defendants in order to rape, commit sexual activity with a child or engage in sexual activity in the presence of a child. Today he received a further two life sentences and will spend the rest of his life on licence.
The other men sentenced were:
· Matthew Webby, 30 and formerly of Hemel Hempstead, pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual activity with a child, conspiracy to rape a child, conspiracy to commit sexual activity with a child, and possession of indecent images of children. He was jailed for nine years with an extended licence for five years.
· Robert Lindsay, 39, and previously of Markyate, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to rape a child, conspiracy to commit sexual activity with a child, making indecent images of a child, and to causing or inciting the child sexual exploitation of a 17-year-old. He was sentenced to five years and three months in prison with a further three years’ extended licence.
· Paul Stevens, 54, formerly of Northchurch, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to rape a child under 13 and conspiracy to commit sexual activity with a child under 13. He was jailed for 10 years with a five-year extended licence.
· Simon Wintle, 44 and formerly of Hemel Hempstead, pleaded guilty to sexual activity in the presence of a child and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity in the presence of a child. He was sentenced to two years and six months.
Thomas Perry, 2,8 and formerly of Northchurch, was found guilty on December 7 of conspiracy to rape a child under the age of 13, conspiracy to commit sexual activity with a child under 13 and causing a child to watch a sexual act. He will be sentenced on January 24.
The investigation, codenamed Operation Pendent, is the largest ever conducted by the Constabulary’s Child Online Safeguarding Team (COST).
Chief Inspector Dee Perkins said: “This was an extensive inquiry which resulted in the sharing of intelligence with more than 50 other law enforcement agencies. No stone has been left unturned in the search to identify and protect victims and bring those responsible for these despicable acts to justice.
“Emerton – the paedophile at the centre of this investigation – mercilessly exploited children for his own sexual gratification and for those other men who he met on line. The nine life sentences he has received reflects the disturbing nature of his actions.
“Work is on-going to support the victims and make sure they have the best possible chance of a normal life ahead. I would like to pay tribute to their bravery throughout this process.”
She added: “I would also like to pay tribute to the professionalism and dedication of my officers who have worked tirelessly to bring this case to court. Not only was this a large and complex investigation but also one that involved working through a large amount of video evidence in which this group had documented their own horrific crimes. Our reward is to see these men behind bars today and for many years ahead.”
Helena Burman, senior crown prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said: “This case involved the serious and sustained sexual abuse of vulnerable young children by a ring of active paedophiles. The young age of the victims greatly increases the seriousness of the offences.
“As a result of the hard work and diligence of the prosecution team, and the strength of the evidence, four of the defendants pleaded guilty and the fifth was found guilty after trial.
“It is only due to the great courage of the victims that this abuse was brought to light, and the full extent of the despicable and lawless behaviour of these people revealed.”
She added: “The CPS takes all allegations of rape and sexual offences seriously and has specialist rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) prosecutors who have expertise in dealing with sexual offences cases. We work with the police and the courts to ensure that victims are given the best possible support during the court process. We will continue to vigorously prosecute all such offenders and particularly those who target young and vulnerable victims.
“The sentences imposed today recognise the seriousness of the offences and the vulnerability of the victims. I know that nothing can undo what happened to them, but I hope that the convictions and today’s sentences will give them, with the passage of time and appropriate support, at least a small sense that justice has been done. My thoughts are very much with them at this time.”
To date more than 100 potential offenders worldwide have been identified as a result of Operation Pendent. Detectives continue to work with other law enforcement agencies and internet companies to identify those people and protect children at risk of abuse.
In one instance intelligence was shared via the National Crime Agency with the Department of Homeland Securities about a potential offender in the USA. The intelligence suggested there was an immediate risk of harm to a potential victim. The suspect was detained in custody by American authorities within 48 hours of the evidence of offending being discovered in the UK.