The Sunday Mail (Queensland)


- TERRY SWEET­MAN sweet­words@oze­ sweet­words@oze­

THE Wood Royal Com­mis­sion in New South Wales in the late 1990s lifted a rock un­der which nests of pu­trid po­lice and their crim­i­nal friends writhed in a mire of filth.

But one com­fort­ing find­ing was that, de­spite sen­sa­tional al­le­ga­tions in the media and be­fore a sep­a­rate cor­rup­tion com­mis­sion, there was no high-level net­work of “in­di­vid­u­als, com­pris­ing highly placed of­fend­ers, who com­mu­ni­cate with each other in or­der to pro­cure chil­dren for sex­ual pur­poses’’.

It was sooth­ing, but over the years var­i­ous pil­lars of that find­ing have been badly knocked around by rev­e­la­tions in suc­ces­sive royal com­mis­sions and a steady feed of ap­palling court cases around the world.

Fed­eral and state in­quiries have con­firmed the ex­is­tence of con­spir­a­to­rial “net­works’’ within once-re­spected in­sti­tu­tions, of­ten dur­ing the time frame ex­am­ined by the com­mis­sion.

These net­works may have been small but judg­ment on the ex­is­tence of “highly placed of­fend­ers” might now be a mat­ter of def­i­ni­tion.

But where Jus­tice James Wood has been left be­hind in the dust of progress is in his ob­ser­va­tion that “it is im­por­tant not to over­re­act to con­cerns about pe­dophiles in­vad­ing the in­ter­net, or es­tab­lish­ing world­wide links’’.

“Crim­i­nal­ity of this kind has yet to emerge on any large scale or or­gan­ised way, but the po­ten­tial is there, and needs to be con­fronted,’’ he said.

Re­mem­ber, at the time he wrote these words he was able to note that “there are ap­prox­i­mately 1.5 mil­lion in­ter­net users in Aus­tralia’’.

By last De­cem­ber there were nearly 13 mil­lion in­ter­net sub­scribers, ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Bureau of Sta­tis­tics.

Wood noted that a crim­i­nal in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment in 1992 con­cluded that “pe­dophiles come from all walks of life and all so­cial and fi­nan­cial strata of so­ci­ety; and who have the ca­pac­ity to use their of­fice or in­flu­ence to pro­tect one another’’.

So who knows how many of these re­volt­ing peo­ple now prowl the web and how they try to pro­tect one another? Or how they suc­ceed?

What­ever num­ber you come up with, you could be way off beam given the rev­e­la­tions in the re­cent “dark net” case in Ade­laide where a crea­ture called Shan­non McCoole was jailed for 35 years for sex­u­ally abus­ing chil­dren as young as 18 months.

A court was told McCoole, a 33year-old for­mer gov­ern­ment carer, was ad­min­is­tra­tor of a so­phis­ti­cated 1000-mem­ber global child pornog­ra­phy web­site.

He hid be­hind a cloak of en­cryp­tion soft­ware but it be­gan to un­ravel last year when Dan­ish po­lice dis­cov­ered im­ages he had taken of young chil­dren be­ing sex­u­ally abused. It gets worse. When McCoole was ar­rested, two of­fi­cers from Queens­land’s anti-pe­dophile task­force Ar­gos as­sumed his online iden­tity, work­ing around the clock to iden­tify other pe­dophiles us­ing the net­work.

Dur­ing a 10-month sting they iden­ti­fied se­nior mem­bers of the global site and tic-tacked with over­seas in­ves­ti­ga­tors to help res­cue scores of chil­dren and to carry out raids on sus­pected child abusers.

Ar­rests were made in Aus­tralia and around the world.

It was a good re­sult for the po­lice and for all of us but now the of­fice of the Com­mon­wealth Di­rec­tor of Pros­e­cu­tions says the ring that un­rav­elled might be just the tip of the ice­berg.

Last week peo­ple were talk­ing of online net­works with 45,000 mem­bers.

“The ma­te­rial here was shock­ing, and the scale of the or­gan­i­sa­tion of it was shock­ing,” said DPP as­sis­tant di­rec­tor Me­gan Voller.

Just as shock­ing is that ped­dling this online filth is a growth in­dus­try, with mem­ber­ship tre­bling while McCoole was run­ning his show.

Those num­bers are ter­ri­fy­ing and it is dif­fi­cult to ac­cept that such sites sur­vive merely thanks to clever soft­ware or that they re­cruit mem­bers with­out a de­gree of in­volve­ment from high-level, or at least highly skilled, or­gan­is­ers.

The de­gree of so­phis­ti­ca­tion in­volved can be judged by the fact that it needed the po­lice forces of South Aus­tralia and Queens­land, the Fed­eral Po­lice and var­i­ous ju­ris­dic­tions in Europe and the US to bust this ring.

Wood did a mighty job in ex­pos­ing cor­rup­tion in the NSW po­lice force but it seems rea­son­able to ac­cept that, through no fault of his, some of the find­ings on pe­dophilia have been in­val­i­dated by the pas­sage of time and the amaz­ing growth of the in­ter­net.

The un­fold­ing ev­i­dence is that we face or­gan­ised crim­i­nal net­works ev­ery bit as so­phis­ti­cated, ev­ery bit as ruth­less and pos­si­bly ev­ery bit as prof­itable as the in­ter­na­tional drug trade.

There don’t ap­pear to be too many whistle­blow­ers or turn­coats when it comes to this filth so our main de­fences are small groups of ded­i­cated po­lice beaver­ing away to breach the elec­tronic walls of crim­i­nal hide-outs.

You might won­der whether we de­vote suf­fi­cient re­sources to re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing bright, ded­i­cated and com­puter-smart men and women who could pre­sum­ably make more com­fort­able liv­ings in the shiny cor­po­rate world.

McCoole’s trial was told that 53,000 im­ages of child pornog­ra­phy were found on his com­puter.

The AFP hi-tech crime unit re­port­edly viewed ev­ery one of those 53,000 hideous im­ages, each one of which po­ten­tially rep­re­sented a new vic­tim.

We owe a huge debt to men and women who are pre­pared to wade through that sort of filth to pro­tect our chil­dren.

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