4 years’ jail for running online child porn ring

John Hellewell ran two chat sites centred around the trading of child-abuse material. PHOTO: ROB...
John Hellewell ran two chat sites centred around the trading of child-abuse material. PHOTO: ROB KIDD
An Oamaru man who ran an international online child pornography ring has been jailed for four years, in what could be a New Zealand first.

John Ritchie Hellewell (49) was locked up for 20 months for almost identical crimes at the end of 2016 and Judge Kevin Phillips, in the Dunedin District Court yesterday, said he showed a disturbing lack of remorse.

"When you were released, you really just got back into it," he said.

"You didn’t, in any way or in any manner, take into account the children that were being sexually abused to provide you and your ‘friends’ their sexual release."

The defendant explained it: "The further down the rabbit hole, the easier it is to shift the boundaries and to fully remove them."

Hellewell’s latest offences came to light in June last year when United States authorities discovered images of young boys engaged in sex acts had been uploaded using a messaging app.

A report was filed at the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, which contacted New Zealand Customs a couple of months later.

The objectionable files were traced back to a New Zealand internet service provider and a particular Samsung cellphone.

On November 5, Customs staff raided the defendant’s Farnham St home and seized the phone.

Forensic analysis of the device found Hellewell was deeply involved in a web of depraved online offending which was ongoing until the morning the search warrant was executed.

Investigators focused on two accounts run by the defendant.

Other iterations of the account had been previously shut down, the court heard.

When asked by another user what he was into Hellewell said: "Ultimately depends on the boy and situation, but especially like boys 4-14."

The man had been active in several chat groups, all of which had the common interest in the sexual abuse of children.

Two of them were defined by law as "organised criminal groups", a charge usually laid against gang members.

Hellewell, the court heard, was a co-administrator, which meant he could invite new members, ban people and change the chat name or profile picture.

Anyone who wanted to join had to send him a child-abuse image to prove they were legitimate.

"Each group’s objective was to obtain objectionable publications depicting the sexual exploitation of children from the groups members, including members based overseas," court documents said.

One of the child porn rings run by Hellewell involved 27 people.

What happened in the group stayed in the group, he told his mates.

During one exchange, a user expressed feelings of shame about his involvement — but Hellewell stepped in to reassure him.

"Yeah it’s a hard one ... how to accept urself and ur desires ... but here you’re among friends," (sic) he said.

In total, 608 illegal files were associated with the defendant.

Counsel Rhona Daysh said though her client was a group admin he was not a "kingpin".

"A lot was social banter, communicating with other people."

Hellewell had lived in a "fantasy world" from an early age.

"This is not fantasy, this is actual young children," Judge Phillips said.

The defendant told Probation he no longer felt pity or sadness for the abused children and had to ignore the harm being inflicted to enjoy the material.

"That’s an extremely frightening comment," the judge said.

Chief Customs officer of the child exploitation team Simon Peterson said it was possibly the first time this type of charge had been pursued in New Zealand, in the context of objectionable publications and specifically child sexual exploitation material.

"But that’s exactly what this man was doing: actively participating in, contributing to and in many ways determining the course of these online groups, whose sole purpose was to revel in the unimaginable distress of child sexual abuse victims."

 

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter