A PORTSMOUTH couple who were at the centre of an international paedophile ring were jailed today.
Robert Hathaway was given an indeterminate sentence for public protection with a minimum of 12 years. He will only be allowed out if the parole board considers him safe.
His partner Melissa Noon was jailed for four years.
At Portsmouth Crown Court today three others were also sentenced for their roles in the shocking abuse of children.
Lee Parson, 38, of Arundel Street, Landport, Portsmouth, was given a three year jail term.
Simon Hilton, 29, of Wolsey Road, Islington, London and Stephen Fraser, 42, of Hemingford Road, Cambridge were both jailed for four years with an extended licence period of six years.
Sexual offences prevention orders were made against all of them apart from Hathaway and all of them were barred from working with children.
Judge Roger Hetherington said the case involved ‘systematic and continuous sexual abuse of the worst sort.’
Addressing Hathaway he said: ‘You were by far and away the defendant who bears the chief responsibility for what happened.
‘You were the dominant personality.
‘I have no doubt that you set the rules and enforced the regime.’
Unemployed Noon and Cascades shopping centre security guard Hathaway set up the network from their flat in Tyseley Road, Somers Town, Portsmouth.
Detective Inspector Victoria Dennis, from Hampshire’s specialist investigations department, said: ‘Today’s sentencing brings to a close for these defendants what has been a complex investigation and one of the largest of its type that Hampshire Constabulary has dealt with.
‘It is one of the most horrific incidents of child abuse I have ever investigated and revolved around what I can only describe as an international paedophile ring involving 35 suspects in total.
‘It was around this time last year that the information came to us from police in Australia via the child exploitation and online protection centre.
‘We took action immediately and arrested Robert Hathaway and his partner Melissa Noon.
‘Their conviction and sentencing is a warning to anyone who thinks that they can get away with taking, viewing, downloading and distributing indecent images of children or otherwise sexually abusing children or encouraging others to do so.
‘Ultimately we want this sort of behaviour to stop. If you have concerns or suspicions about someone you believe is abusing children or sharing indecent images you can call police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.’
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, 37, 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 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.
The abuse came to light following an investigation by Australian police into a registered sex offender, which revealed links to Noon and Hathaway.
Yesterday the court heard mitigation for the defendants.
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.
Stephen Smyth, defending Hathaway, 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.’
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 WERE SENTENCED FOR
Robert Hathaway, 37, 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.
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.