Top, from left: Colin Slaven, Craig Boath, James Rennie, Neil Campbell, (bottom, from left) Ross Phillip Webber, John Patrick Murphy, John Milligan and Neil Strachan, who have all been found guilty of a catalogue of child pornography and abuse charges
Six members of a paedophile gang have been sent to prison for a total of more than 40 years for conspiring to abuse children and for owning and distributing grotesque images and videos of abuse.
Police and prosecutors expressed grim satisfaction at the length of the sentences meted out to three of the men, who were found guilty of conspiracy. The verdicts in the case, which has made set a legal precedent in Scotland, and the 17-year sentence imposed on John Milligan signals a significant tightening of the law to deal with sex offenders
Milligan, a 44-year-old civil servant from Glasgow, was found with 75,289 photographs and moving images of child sex abuse, and was “at the heart of this most serious conspiracy and a very major player,” said judge Lord Bannatyne, passing sentence. Milligan’s co-conspirators, Craig Boath from Dundee and Ross Webber, from North Berwick, received sentences of nine years and nine months and eight years and nine months respectively.
“The conspiracy charge in this case accurately reflected the actions of the accused and the full extent of their criminal behaviour which went far beyond the sharing of indecent photographs” said Morag McLaughlin, area procurator fiscal for Lothian and Borders.
“The charge highlighted how these individuals connected and planned to share children for sexual gratification, the individual parts and joint parts each played in that joint venture and the common goal that they sought. The charge of conspiracy makes clear that agreeing to take part in this kind of activity is itself an offence and can be struck at by the law, even if the agreement is not followed through.”
The other men were convicted of the lesser charges of distributing, possessing and making indecent images. Neil Campbell, 46, a bell-ringer at Jordanhill parish church in Glasgow, was jailed for three years and four months. A married man, Campbell was formerly a Church of Scotland elder.
John Murphy, a receptionist at a gay sauna in Glasgow was jailed for two years, and Colin Slaven, a 24-year-old IT worker from Edinburgh was jailed for three years, a year of which was for contempt of court, after he arrived at court drunk during the trial.
The judge said all the offences were of the most serious nature, involving real children. “Many of the photographs, involved children being sexually abused, often in the most appalling ways,” said Lord Bannatyne. “These are not victimless crimes. They are real victims of these offences, namely the children who are photographed and in many of these photographs are actually being abused. In many of the photographs the children were of tender years.”
Two other members of the gang, Neil Strachan, 41, and James Rennie, 38, a senior figure in youth work in Scotland, will be sentenced in seven weeks, for conspiracy and for other serious charges including the abuse of a three-month-old baby, left in Rennie’s care by close friends who had no knowledge of his abusive activities. Both men face the prospect of life sentences.
Detective Inspector Stuart Hood, who heading the 18-month police investigation, codenamed Algebra, said yesterday’s sentences sent a clear message to other offenders that the Scottish legal system “worked very well” and would hold them to proper account.
However, beyond the sheer volume of sickening images which were seized – totalling more than 125,000 photographs and videos – and the shocking “chatlogs” which recorded brutal details of abuse in internet conversations between the men. Mr Hood said officers found other aspects of the case disturbing, notably the level of deception involved.
None of the six men had previous convictions for sex offences, and all led apparently respectable, middle-class lives. Each one was involved in the “skilled deceit” of friends and family, in a way which was profoundly disturbing, he said.
The convictions stemmed from one of the most complex investigations ever carried out by Lothian and Borders Police. The gang were traced because Strachan forgot to remove a hard drive from a broken work computer he had sent for repair. It revealed hundreds of shocking images, and a record of internet conversations and e-mail addresses. An international investigation tracked down his friends and associates, an operation which involved computer experts in America and the UK, the FBI, and a former MI5 expert in radio technology.
The investigation indentified about 200 offenders across the globe and information on around 70 other people was sent to police forces throughout the UK as a result of the inquiry.
The images which had been recovered would “repulse any reasonable human being” said Mr Hood. “As an investigator it is often difficult to reconcile why individuals resort to this abhorrent behaviour. Despite this, Algebra has taught us many lessons and we will use these to target those who seek to commit these crimes.
“Technology is advancing all the time, we will use every tool at our disposal to make sure anyone involved in this kind of activity is identified and brought to justice,” he added.
Lord Bannatyne imposed extended sentences on the men sentenced yesterday, to provide extra protection for the public. Offenders on extended sentences remain on licence for a number of years after their release and should they fail to comply with the conditions of the licence, they can be re-arrested.