A man who tricked four teenage girls into sending him sexual images and videos by masquerading as a teenage boy online has been jailed for four-and-a-half years.
The 49-year-old Dublin man sexually exploited girls in the UK and US, an unidentified girl with an Irish name and his own step-daughter, collecting over around 2,000 videos of the children in sexually explicit poses.
The man also secretly placed hidden recording devices into his step-daughter's bathroom and bedroom and installed software on her computer that enabled him to take control of her webcam, computer microphone and the computer screen from a computer in another room.
He used the software to produce videos of the child in various states of nudity or semi-nudity or changing her clothes, and still images of her naked from the waist down while dressing.
He carried out the offending from February 2010 to December 2013 when the victim was aged 13-16.
The offending emerged in 2013 when a woman in the UK contacted police after she discovered her teenage daughter had sent sexualised images of herself to someone claiming to be a 17-year-old boy living in Dublin.
Police in the UK traced the fake account to the defendant's home in Dublin and Gardaí went to the house with a search warrant.
The subsequent analysis of the defendant's computer found the sexually explicit images of the victims, included the semi-nude images of his step-daughter. Two other victims were also identified, a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl in the US.
The 14-year-old sent 41 sexually explicit videos to the defendant, who she thought was a teenage boy, and she considered herself to be in a relationship with.
The man pleaded guilty to possession and production of sexually explicit images of children, contrary to the Child Pornography Act 1998. He also pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of the UK victim between February 2012 and December 2013 by inviting and coercing her to participate in a sexual or obscene act.
There were eight charges in total and the pleas were accepted by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on the basis of the full facts of the offending being heard in evidence.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that in 2007, the man began a relationship with the mother of the Dublin-based victim. In 2010, this child was aged 13 and received a message purporting to be from a teenage boy called Ben.
She sent him some images and he then began threatening her so she would send more. The girl told her step-father, the defendant, who pretended to have identified the boy and beat him up to get him to stop.
The man later admitted to gardaí that he was behind the fake account and had used it to get the girl to send naked images of herself and engage in sexualised conversations. He said he was aroused by these and admitted he had become obsessed with his step-daughter.
In her impact statement this victim, now an adult, told the court she lost her childhood due to her step-dad's predatory behaviour.
“He isolated me and manipulated me and threatened me. I felt lost, that I had no voice. We were all warned about online predators, but what happens when the predator is in your own home,” she said.
Judge Melanie Greally said the offending has had a huge emotional turmoil on this woman and noted a counselling report which states the trauma continues to permeate her life.
She noted the man, who previously worked in the electronic and aviation industry, has been assessed as being at a low to moderate risk of reoffending.
The judge said the man's threats to his step-daughter, under the guise of fake accounts, his manipulation of her and the pretence of trying to help her while deceiving her were just some of the aggravating factors.
Judge Greally sentenced him five-and-a-half years for the production of child pornography. The maximum penalty available is 14 years.
She suspended the final year on condition that he engage with the Probation Service, including with assessment for sex offender treatment, and not have any unsupervised access to children.
Judge Greally imposed two-year sentences, to run concurrently, for the two other offences.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the national 24-hour Rape Crisis Helpline at 1800 77 8888, access text service and webchat options at drcc.ie/services/helpline/, or visit Rape Crisis Help. In the case of an emergency, always dial 999/112.