Federal police have arrested nine men in what they say is a bust of one of the country’s biggest child sex abuse networks.
Two men, aged 21 and 26, accused of sexually assaulting Australian children and sharing videos of their horrific crimes were arrested in Kendall and Old Bar on the NSW mid-north coast on Thursday.,
At least 14 children have been removed from harmful situations and a total of 40 charges have been laid after a major investigation into an alleged child sex abuse network that operated across three states.
The investigation began in February after a tip-off from US authorities.
The men arrested on Thursday are alleged to have violently raped at least eight boys aged between four and seven.
They are also accused of sharing videos of the attacks via the dark web.
“We expect this is the biggest domestic child exploitation network uncovered in recent times,” Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Northern Command Lesa Gale said on Friday.
“We believe [these] are some of the most horrific cases of child sexual abuse against children in Australia.”
The child sex ring was operating in the same NSW town, Kendall, where William Tyrrell mysteriously disappeared in 2014.
A NSW Police spokesman said the child sex ring arrests are not related to William Tyrell’s disappearance at this stage.
Ms Gale said the cases were not linked. However, she was unable to say if the men were in the town of 1000 people when William went missing.
The two men, who face child exploitation and child harm charges, appeared in Kempsey Magistrates Court on Friday.
It’s alleged that some of their victims were family members.
Police have uncovered evidence the men’s alleged offending began in 2018, but it may have started earlier.
One of the men previously worked at a child care centre in the Kendall area. He left that position in 2018.
Neither had a criminal record before they were arrested.
The arrests are part of a broader national operation with previous arrests in Queensland, NSW and Western Australia.
In total, nine men aged in their 20s have been arrested in relation to the child abuse that was filmed, photographed and shared online.
Six are from NSW, one is from Hervey Bay in Queensland, and one is from Western Australia. They all remain before the courts.
The Hervey Bay man was arrested in April.
Ms Gale said officers have followed the “bread crumbs” since. She said the investigation involved dozens of specialist operators working around the country who obtained tens of thousands of images.
“Operation Arkstone has shaken some of our most seasoned officers,” she Gale said.
“A total of 40 charges have been laid, with three of the men facing life imprisonment.
“The victims are getting younger and younger [and] this type of offending is becoming more violent and brazen.
“It takes a network to break a network and to this end, we want to thank our police partners.
“The victims are getting younger and younger [and] this type of offending is becoming more violent and brazen.”
One Sydney man charged is understood to be a soccer coach. All of the victims were boys, aged between four and seven.
Ms Gale said the men’s alleged offending and evidence gathered had shaken some of the AFP’s most seasoned officers.
She said some of the alleged offenders knew each other outside the online child sex ring.
Police said more alleged abusers associated with the network were yet to be uncovered.
“We are painstakingly reviewing material [with] Interpol-trained victim-identification experts, noting every pixel from evidence,” Ms Gale said.