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'Vile and depraved' UK gang raped and abused babies
Members of a paedophile network whose crimes were described as the most "vile and depraved" police had seen have been convicted of arranging abuse. The UK-wide gang raped and abused babies and young children, streaming the attacks online to fellow members. John Denham, 49, and Matthew Stansfield, 34, had denied plotting sex crimes against the victims.
They were found guilty after a trial at Bristol Crown Court. Five other members had earlier admitted various offences. The group used the internet to plan and stream abuse and tried to groom pregnant women in order to find new victims, the trial heard.
In one case, they groomed a mother and father before their child was born. Officers from the National Crime Agency, which led the investigation, said the crimes were the most "vile and depraved" it had ever investigated. Earlier, a jury convicted former actor Denham, 49, from Wiltshire - previously known as Benjamin Harrop - of conspiracy to sexually assault a child under 13.
Stansfield, 34, from Hampshire, was found guilty of conspiracy to rape a child under 13. Denham was cleared of the same charge.
Five others pleaded guilty to offences including rape of a child and conspiracy to rape at an earlier hearing. They are: Robin Hollyson, 30, from Bedfordshire Christopher Knight, 35, from Manchester David Harsley, 51, from Hull Matthew Lisk, 32, from East Sussex Adam Toms, 33, from Somerset
A date is yet to be set for their sentencing.
The investigation identified three victims - a baby, a toddler and a young child - who were raped and assaulted by the men who had gained the trust of unsuspecting parents.
They met online and were prepared to drive for hours to carry out abuse when an opportunity became available, police said.
The gang also discussed the drugging of children and used video conferencing websites to broadcast the abuse to fellow members.
Police believe there were other victims, and have put measures in place to protect another 21 children found to be at risk.
Despite the men's efforts to destroy evidence, police were able to retrieve webchats where the gang discussed their plans, with comments such as "I'm really in to v.v. young", and "sicker the better".
Material which could lead to the arrest of other paedophileshas been sent on to police forces on five continents. Prosecutor Robert Davies told the jury in the Denham and Stansfield trial: "This prosecution will take you into a world you wished did not exist. "The evidence exposes the shocking interest a group of men had in sexually abusing babies, toddlers or pre-school children.
"A real baby was for certain abused and raped by some of those involved."
Earlier in the trial, Denham told the court he had become "desensitised" after watching a young teenage girl performing a sex act on a man, and the age range "dropped lower and lower". He said he was "ashamed" of deriving sexual gratification from child pornography and now understood there were "real victims".
The NSPCC has described the case as "vile" and is running a helpline for anyone worried their child may have been a victim". These men shared their abhorrent fantasies and honed in on very young children for sickening abuse, on easily accessible sections of the internet," a spokesman said.
"They even callously targeted pregnant women.
"It shows that there is still a long way to go for technology companies and social media networks who work with police to identify and prevent these crimes."