Men 'planned abuse' of children
A gang of paedophiles raped and abused a baby and a pre-school child in attacks that were live streamed over the internet, a court heard today.
Members of the child sex ring preyed on the families of the youngsters they targeted - sometimes offering to babysit their victims, jurors were told.
Some would travel long distances to carry out the attacks together or watch a live stream using hi-tech video conferencing software if only one had access to a victim, Bristol Crown Court heard.
Prosecutor Robert Davies told the jury of eight men and four women that five of the gang have pleaded guilty to a range of offences, including rape of a child and conspiracy to rape a child during 2013 and 2014.
They are Robin Hollyson, 30; Christopher Knight, 35; Adam Toms, 33; David Harsley, 51, and Matthew Lisk, 32.
Two others, John Denham, 49, and Matthew Stansfield, 34, have denied charges of conspiracy to rape a child and are on trial.
"This prosecution will take you into a world you wish did not exist," Mr Davies said.
"The evidence exposes the shocking interest a group of men had in sexually abusing children and babies, particularly pre-school children and babies.
"A real baby was for certain abused and raped by some of those involved. Also a boy aged four or five was brought into a room while a man engaged in sexual activity for his own enjoyment as men watched live on the internet.
"Those others, particularly on the internet where part of an operation that such things would occur, even if they were not those committing the sexual acts."
Mr Davies said members of the gang would contact each other using Skype, video conferencing software and other online chatrooms.
They would also connect to the internet using the "dark web" - a way of hiding online activity, the court was told.
"The abuse would be arranged when there was a 'window of opportunity' to abuse a baby," Mr Davies said.
"Those involved in the planning of the abuse were as much a part of that abuse as those taking part in that abuse.
"The abuse was planned and was not just fantasy."
Denham, who was previously known as Benjamin Harrop, of Wiltshire denies a charge of conspiracy to rape a child under the age of 13 and the alternative of conspiracy to sexually assault a child under the age of 13.
He has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in sexual activity in the presence of a child and child pornography offences.
Stansfield, of Hampshire, has pleaded not guilty to two charges of conspiracy to rape a child under 13 and one alternative charge of conspiracy to sexually assault a child under the age of 13. He has also pleaded guilty to child pornography offences.
Mr Davies said that the evidence against Stansfield and Denham centred on videos, photographs and chat logs recovered from computers and mobile phones.
"The evidence of what occurred at different times comes from various sources and despite the efforts of many of those involved to destroy evidence before they were arrested, such as wiping hard drives clean," he said.
He said that both Stansfield and Denham admitted taking part in converations on Skype.
"They accept their involvement in the Skype chat but essentially say it was just fantasy and nothing more and the prosecution say that was plainly untrue," he said.
"We suggest that plans to rape the boy were very real and indeed it happened. Those two knew that in encouraging it, it was likely that someone would commit this type of thing.
"If not them, then this abuse would be broadcast to others by conferencing networks or Skype.
"Part of the excitement and titillation for some of them was watching a baby being abused - that did it for them."
In one incident in February last year, Stansfield allegedly drove from his home in Hampshire more than 100 miles to where Hollyson lived because Hollyson had a "thin window of opportunity" to spend time with a baby.
"This was an opportunity that was too good to miss," Mr Davies said.
"It is not clear precisely what happened to the baby that day but we know there was a plan because Christopher Knight and Robin Hollyson have pleaded guilty. The question is 'Was Matthew Stansfield part of it?'."
The prosecutor said that Hollyson, from Bedfordshire, and Knight, from Manchester, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to rape a child.
In another incident, Mr Davies said Skype chat logs allegedly showed Denham engaging in conversation with Hollyson about raping the same baby the previous month.
The court heard that Hollyson was unexpectedly detained in hospital and the incident did not happen.
"It may well be that he does not turn up. We say that he is not just a laptop masturbating fantasist and there is a real plan for the baby to be raped on January 17," Mr Davies said.
"We say that Mr Denham is part of that plan. He pushed the idea along and trades on the fact that he will have access to a newborn and is very disappointed that Hollyson is stuck in hospital.
"We say John Denham is part of a real arrangement to rape in the weeks building up to January 17."
Jurors also told of another incident in 2013 involving Denham, who is married, Matthew Lisk, from Sussex, and David Harsley, from Humberside, who had all met on a paedophile internet chat room.
Harsley committed a sex act in front of a child aged four or five as Denham and Lisk were together "getting turned on" watching over the internet, while also engaging in consenual sexual activity themselves.
"We suggest that Mr Denham and the other man might as well have been in the room with the boy," Mr Davies said.
Those three had all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in sexual activity in the presence of a child. The court heard that the police began to unravel what happened when Hollyson was arrested in September last year.
Inquiries had led officers to friends of Hollyson because of online activity from their internet IP address. That in turn led to Hollyson because he had been allowed to use their internet account, the court heard.
Judge Julian Lambert adjourned the trial until Monday.