Oamaru man charged in child sex ring

An Oamaru man faces dozens of charges, including sexual violation and indecent assault, for his alleged involvement in a paedophile ring revealed by police yesterday.

Police have confirmed details about the operation, which targeted paedophiles in New Zealand and overseas.

Four New Zealand children, including a 13-month-old South Island baby, have been saved from further abuse, Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael, head of the Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand (Oceanz), said.

A 27-year-old will appear in the Oamaru District Court next week on 40 charges - three of sexual violation, seven of indecent assault, and 10 charges each of making, distributing and possession of objectionable material.

Southern District Police Crime Services Manager Detective Inspector Steve McGregor told the Otago Daily Times the man was identified as part of the national operation.

''Oamaru police initiated the key inquiries which uncovered the details of the alleged offending and which led to his arrest,'' he said.

Yesterday, Aaron John Ellmers (40) pleaded guilty in the Hastings District Court to 60 charges, including sexual violation of children, stupefying, making an intimate visual recording, dealing in people for sexual exploitation and attempted sexual conduct with a child under 12.

Ellmers planned and plotted ways to steal children away from their parents so he could abuse them and then trade images of his crimes worldwide.

The most sickening breach of trust was his last - he found a father willing to rent out his 13-month-old son for Ellmers' perverse use for the price of $500.

As Ellmers jetted into Christchurch to meet the baby's father, police were waiting.

The father, aged 27, was also arrested. Ellmers has a history of such offending in Australia, where he lived from 1999 to 2008. In 2005 he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for rape, attempted rape and indecent treatment of a child under 12. Ellmers was aged 33 at the time. In June 2008 he was deported back to New Zealand after serving 18 months of his sentence.

Court documents show police found Ellmers had collected and traded thousands of images and movies of children being abused.

Ellmers' sentencing was transferred to the High Court, with Crown prosecutor Steve Manning saying his abuse was at the ''highest end of child sexual offending in this country''.

Only the High Court can impose a sentence of preventive detention. That would mean Ellmers would be sentenced to a minimum term, and only released thereafter if authorities were satisfied he no longer represented a significant risk to the public. A 24-year-old Auckland man is also facing charges in connection with the alleged paedophile ring. Police have also made 35 referrals to a number of overseas member agencies, including Australia, the United Kingdom, United States and Canada, Det Snr Sgt Michael said.

He warned the internet was not an anonymous place where offending by paedophiles could occur undetected.

''Whilst paedophiles think the internet is their playground, it is the hunting ground for police. We are always building our capability and capacity and we will continue to infiltrate these offenders, both here and overseas.''

Det Snr Sgt Michael said child victims almost always knew their offenders, who had gained their trust and that of their parents, before the offending occurred.

''We urge parents and caregivers to be alert to the signs of this kind of abuse, but not alarmed,'' he said.

Alan Bell, director of ECPAT Child Alert, a charitable trust working to prevent the sexual exploitation of children, said cases of dealing in child sex abuse images via the internet was increasing.

''Most of these sites originate overseas but this is not the first case of a New Zealander exploiting our own children. The disturbing reality is that there is a demand from people willing to pay to view such images and this results in an industry where children are marketed as commodities.''

Anyone concerned about any adult's behaviour or disturbing images found on computers should call police or call Crimestoppers anonymously, on 0800 555-111.

- Additional reporting: The New Zealand Herald