NZ sting nets abuse ring

Timing was crucial in the busting of an alleged online child sexual abuse network, New Zealand authorities say.

Six offenders were caught in the New Zealand operation codenamed Operation Hyper, media were told today in Auckland.

Hyper also identified four children who had the potential to be harmed, and rescued a 6-year-old girl in the UK.

"The operation required meticulous planning and execution to ensure enforcement activity did not jeopardise potential victim safety or alert suspect offenders who could warn others in their network," said Customs Manager Border Operations Shane Panettiere.

"With greater global connectivity, offenders think they can operate anonymously accessing and exchanging child sexual abuse material, but they will not go undetected."

He said online child sexual abuse is a serious borderless crime, against which agencies join forces to actively share information and conduct investigations to protect children and target offenders.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael, head of Police's Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand unit, said Operation Hyper was a great example of domestic and international co-operation.

"A global taskforce is committed to identifying and protecting children in New Zealand and across the world from online sexual exploitation and sexual offending," he said.

Internal Affairs' team leader, Censorship Compliance Unit, Jon Peacock said it took a network to defeat a network.

"The agencies involved actively shared information and conducted investigations to target and arrest the offenders when the timing was right," he said.

Andy Baker, the Deputy Director of the UK's National Crime Agency, CEOP Command, said the internet knew no bounds, so international partnerships and relationships were crucial when tackling child sexual exploitation.

Operation Hyper began last June when a referral by Queensland police led to a Customs search warrant at the home of a 41-year-old man in central Auckland.

His young child was assessed by government agencies for harm.

Information gained as a result of this warrant also identified other offenders in New Zealand and the UK.

Internal Affairs, police and Customs conducted simultaneous warrants on Auckland's North Shore and in Levin, while UK police arrested a man in West Yorkshire, a media conference in Auckland today was told.

As a result of these warrants another man living in the UK was identified, and in December, UK police arrested the 62-year-old, and rescued his grand-daughter from physical sexual abuse, which was also being filmed and distributed.

In New Zealand, Customs and police conducted a further search warrant at a Northland home and assessed of two young children living at the property.

Gary Ronald Barnes, 53, of Levin, who was arrested by NZ Police, was sentenced last October to two years and five months' imprisonment for 25 counts of possessing an objectionable publication and five counts of distributing objectionable publications.

The central Auckland man charged by Customs for possession and exportation is due to appear in court for sentencing in March.

A 50-year-old North Shore man faces similar charges, laid by Internal Affairs, and charges are yet to be laid against the 32-year-old Northland man.

Both men arrested in the UK are yet to be sentenced.

- Martin Johnston of the NZ Herald and APNZ

 

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