An investigation into a major online paedophile network has found 16 children from one NSW mid-north coast childcare centre were allegedly sexually abused by a former worker.
The Australian Federal Police said the operation was one of Australia’s most significant efforts targeting child exploitation, with 146 tip-offs to authorities in North America, Asia and Europe.
The AFP and NSW Police have arrested 14 men, who are facing a total of 828 charges for child abuse offences.
The alleged offenders are accused of producing and sharing child abuse material to a wide-reaching online network in Australian and overseas.
Investigations began in February after the arrest of 30-year-old central coast man Justin Radford, who was charged with 89 offences including sexual touching of a victim under 10, producing and disseminating child abuse material.
In June, 27-year-old Timothy Doyle and his 22-year-old partner Steven Garrad were arrested in the Mid-North Coast town of Kendall and charged with hundreds of offences.
Mr Doyle has been charged with 303 offences relating to the abuse of 30 children, with allegations including sexual intercourse with a child under 10 and the production of child abuse material.
“Police will allege the man used his position as a childcare worker, and other deceptive means in his personal life, to gain access to 30 children,” the AFP said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The man’s partner, a 22-year-old man, also allegedly abused children his partner accessed through deceptive means in his personal life.”
It is believed the childcare centre is not in the town and parents of all victims have been notified.
A total 46 children are alleged to have been abused in connection with the ring, with ages ranging between 16 months and 15 years.
Arrests have also been made in Queensland and Western Australia and three men have also been arrested in the US as a result of the operation.
The Australian men arrested were aged 20 to 48 and include volunteer soccer coach Grant Harden, from St Clair in Sydney’s west, a disability support worker, an electrician and a chef.
Earlier in November, 27-year-old Jake Caldwell was arrested at Seaforth in Sydney’s north and charged with four offences related to possessing and accessing child abuse material.
The investigation began after the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation in February received a report from the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children about an online user allegedly uploading child abuse material.
“As a result, the AFP discovered social media forums where some members were allegedly producing CAM (child abuse material), while others were accessing and circulating the material,” an AFP spokesperson said.
“Evidence gathering at each arrest led to the unravelling of this alleged online network – each warrant led to the discovery of more alleged offenders and more children to be saved from ongoing abuse.”
Police laid 30 charges against three men in Queensland with one child victim identified, and 221 charges laid against three men with six child victims identified in WA.
The operation also resulted in NSW bestiality charges related to four animals.
Further arrests and charges are expected.