IT WAS a huge investigation which senior detectives have described as the most horrific they have ever seen.
Now, after a six-week trial a woman and four men have been convicted of being part of an international paedophile ring that was based in Portsmouth.
Melissa Noon, Simon Hilton, Mark Day, Daniel Bell and John Maddox face being sentenced along with four others who had already admitted being part of the ring.
The case stretched as far as Australia, America, Japan and seven European countries, involving 35 suspects.
But it centred around Robert Hathaway and his partner Noon who lived in a flat in Tyseley Road, Somers Town, Portsmouth.
The couple set up a nudist website as a guise for meeting other people who shared their depraved interests.
They abused two children under the age of 13, invited others to come to Portsmouth to do the same and then shared photos and films of the abuse online.
The evidence in the case included more than 14,000 indecent images of children and 300 videos and films of children being abused.
Police examined 45 phones, 113 computers and laptops as well as hundreds of DVDs and CDs.
Superintendent Norman Mellors, who has been a police officer for 28 years, said: ‘This is the worst crime of its type I have ever seen.
‘Sexual abuse cases, especially those involving children, bring out strong feelings within the community. I would wish to thank local residents for remaining calm and assisting our inquiry and court case.’
The abuse came to light following an investigation by Australian police into a registered sex offender, which revealed links to Noon and Hathaway.
The offences took place between May 2008 and December last year.
When police raided the couple’s home they found more than 20 sex toys and a video labelled as a training film used to groom children.
Noon didn’t give evidence during the trial but after her arrest she told police she had not abused any children.
Day, Bell and Maddox all claimed they were fantasising and never intended to harm a child.
Detective Inspector Victoria Dennis, from Hampshire’s specialist investigations unit, said: ‘This case is one of the most horrific incidents of child abuse I have ever investigated.
‘It was a complex investigation and one of the largest of its type that Hampshire Constabulary has dealt with.
‘It’s been particularly complex in managing the different defence teams as well as disseminating intelligence to other police forces around the world.
‘During the early weeks of the investigation there were approximately 70 officers and police staff involved.
‘During this period we regularly worked in excess of 14 hours a day in order to ensure all children were identified and all suspects arrested.
‘Both police officers and staff worked on their days off in order to progress the investigation and I am aware of the effect this had on their families.’
As well as Cascades shopping centre security guard Hathaway, electronics engineer Lee Parson, maintenance engineer Stephen Fraser and Jonathan Garner-Harris, a deputy director of an outdoor activities centre, have all pleaded guilty to their part in the ring.
Kerry Maylin, the barrister who prosecuted the case, said: ‘This was a horrific case of systematic child abuse where the defendants subjected children to atrocious acts of sexual abuse and encouraged others across the world to commit similar offences.
‘They were all active participants in an international paedophile ring and communicated with each other via the internet and phone contact.
‘They also used the internet to share images of the abuse and encouraged each other in the commission of these offences.
‘This outcome demonstrates the importance of the close working relationships that exist between the CPS and our criminal justice colleagues around the world, in particular the Australian Federal Authorities and those in the USA and Europe.’
It took the jury just over 13 hours to reach their verdicts.
Bell was cleared of two counts of arranging a child sex offence and a final charge against Noon of arranging a child sex offence was ordered to lie on the file by Judge Roger Hetherington after the jury was unable to reach a verdict yesterday.
Unemployed Noon and Day wept as the jury delivered the verdicts.
Judge Roger Hetherington remanded Noon and IT consultant Hilton into custody until their sentencing in December with the four who pleaded guilty.
Married sales and marketing manager Day, serving soldier Bell and shop assistant Maddox were released on bail and will be sentenced in January.
WHAT THEY DID
Robert Hathaway, 36, of Tyseley Road, Somers Town, Portsmouth
Two charges of rape of a child, four of sexual assault, 15 of causing a child to engage in sexual activity, one of engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child, three of arranging a child sex offence.
Two of distributing indecent images of a child, one of possessing prohibited images of children, four of making indecent photographs of children and 13 of possessing indecent photographs of children.
Melissa Noon, 30 of Tyseley Road, Somers Town, Portsmouth
Three counts of causing a child to engage in sexual activity, two of arranging a child sex offence and two of sexual assault of a child, one of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, causing a child to watch a sexual act and two counts of possession of indecent images. Two charges of child cruelty.
Simon Hilton, 29, of Wolsey Road, Islington, London
Three of sexual assault of a child, two of causing a child to engage in sexual activity, three of arranging a child sex offence, five of possession of indecent images of children and one of possession of extreme pornography.
Mark Day, formerly of Gosport, now of Whitefriars Meadow, Sandwich, Kent
One of arranging a child sex offence.
Daniel Bell, 27, of St James Road, Emsworth
Attempting to distribute an indecent image of children and two of possession of indecent images of children.
John Maddox, 47, or Ellis Avenue, Rainham, Essex
Causing a child to engage in sexual activity and two counts of possession of indecent photographs of children.
Lee Parson, 38, of Arundel Street, Landport, Portsmouth
Three counts of possessing indecent images of children, one of taking indecent images of children and one of arranging a child sex offence.
Stephen Fraser, 41, of Hemingford Road, Cambridge
Sexual assault of a child, two of causing a child to engage in sexual activity, engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child, arranging a child sex offence, 19 of possessing indecent images of children, two of possessing extreme pornography and one of making an indecent image of a child.
Jonathan Garner-Harris, 37, of Marrick Priory, Marrick, Richmond, North Yorkshire
Three counts of inciting a child sex offence via the internet and 17 charges relating to indecent images of children.