A PORTSMOUTH woman who was at the centre of an international paedophile ring has an IQ in the bottom one per cent for her age and was manipulated into committing the offences, a court heard today.
Melissa Noon and her partner Robert Hathaway were the ringleaders of the group, five of whom are being sentenced at Portsmouth Crown Court this week.
Noon’s barrister Paul Walker said she has an IQ of between 61 and 69, putting her in the bottom one per cent for her age.
‘What that means is she is more vulnerable to manipulation and coercion,’ he said.
‘If Mr Hathaway had not come into Melissa Noon’s life it is highly likely that she would not have become involved in anything like the matters before you.’
He said that at the time of the offending Noon had been manipulated to carry out the abuse.
Earlier today the court heard from Stephen Smyth, defending Hathaway, who said: ‘There really is no mitigation in this case, other than the defendant’s plea.
‘But the court is entitled to an explanation. Mr Hathaway’s parents were both alcoholics.
‘His mother died when he was eight. His father died when he was 10.
‘That left him somewhat scarred and left him more vulnerable than most to outside influences.’
Mr Smyth said Hathaway suffered depression at the time of the offences.
‘In his grey and miserable life there was really nothing other than sex,’ he said.
‘There really are no excuses but in the area of sexual experience people sometimes persuade themselves that some things are all right.’
Unemployed Noon and Cascades shopping centre security guard Hathaway set up the network from their flat in Tyseley Road, Somers Town, Portsmouth.
They are being sentenced along with three others who all played key roles; Lee Parson, 38, of Arundel Street, Landport, Portsmouth, Simon Hilton, 29, of Wolsey Road, Islington, London and Stephen Fraser, 42, of Hemingford Road, Cambridge.
Referring to the couple who met in 2006 prosecutor Kerry Maylin said: ‘They introduced many others into their circle. They introduced them for sexual activity.
‘They used the internet to meet others who had a similar sexual interest in children.
‘There were connections around the world.’
Wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a black cardigan, Hathaway, whose offences include repeatedly raping a child, sat looking at the floor, often rubbing his forehead.
The court heard that offence alone carries a sentence of between 13 and 19 years.
Noon stared straight ahead throughout the hearing.
Ms Maylin said there were videos of Hathaway carrying out the abuse while children’s programmes played on a television in the background.
There were tears and gasps of shock from some relatives of the defendants sat in the public gallery as the extent of the abuse was revealed.
Judge Roger Hetherington will sentence the five tomorrow.
Noon, 30, was found guilty of a string of offences in November after a six week trial in Portsmouth.
Hilton was found guilty of one charge and admitted a host of others while Hathaway, who turns 37 today, electronics engineer Lee Parson and maintenance engineer and photographer Stephen Fraser all pleaded guilty to a total of 77 offences.
The huge police investigation stretched as far as Australia, America, Japan and seven European countries, involving 35 suspects.
At the heart was the Portsmouth couple who set up a nudist website as a guise for meeting other people who shared their depraved interests.
Between May 2008 and December last year 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 abuse came to light following an investigation by Australian police into a registered sex offender, which revealed links to Noon and Hathaway.
Four others, who were convicted of being part of the ring, are due to be sentenced next month.
They are serving soldier Daniel Bell, 27, of St James Road, Emsworth, shop assistant John Maddox, 47, or Ellis Avenue, Rainham, Essex, sales and marketing manager Mark Day, 45, formerly of Gosport, now of Whitefriars Meadow, Sandwich, Kent and Jonathan Garner-Harris, 37, a deputy director of an outdoor activities centre, of Marrick Priory, Marrick, Richmond, North Yorkshire.
WHAT THEY ARE BEING SENTENCED FOR
Robert Hathaway, 37, of Tyseley Road, Somers Town, PortsmouthTwo 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.
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, 42, 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.