Suspended sentence for Stockton man in online pedophile ring that shared horrific images

A Stockton man who was part of an online pedophile ring which shared horrific images and videos of children being sexually abused, was supported in court by his parents, before leaving with a suspended sentence.

Ethan Johnson, 20, was found to have a “mega account” with the online sharing group. His username was “project infinity” and he stored videos of naked children on a cloud account.

Teesside Crown Court has heard that the online group saw members make specific requests for footage of babies being sexually abused. Moderators threatened members with expulsion from the group, if they did not share illegal content.

READ MORE: Hartlepool man accused of historic child sex offenses set to appear in crown court

On Monday, prosecutor Richard Bennett said that police had acted after online surveillance had tracked down members of the group. Officers arrived at Johnson’s home on June 26, 2020, and seized “a large number of devices.”

Johnson was found to be in possession of 223 videos of children being abused – all of which were category A – the most serious level of abuse. He was also found with 107 category B images and 29 category C images.

Mr Bennet told the court that police analysis of Johnson’s mobile phone found that he had been messaging a 14-year old girl from Newcastle, on Snapchat, back in 2019. When the girl messaged that she did not send nude photos, Johnson offered to give her “some sexual healing.”

After challenging him about his messages, and complaining that they were all about sex and meeting her, the girl cut him off. But police then found that Johnson had later texted the girl in 2020: “If we do end up having sex we will have to keep it quiet as I could end up getting arrested and on the sex offenders register.”

Officers traced the girl and she said she had sent pictures of herself engaged in sex acts to Johnson.

Johnson, of Imperial Crescent in Stockton, pleaded guilty to two counts of inciting a girl to engage in sexual activity. The court heard that he has no previous convictions.

Victoria Lamballe, defending, said that her client’s parents were sitting in the public gallery and that, “This is a young man who comes from a very supportive family. He is utterly ashamed at the position he has put himself in and for the position he’s put his parents in.”

Ms Lamballe said that Johnson’s offense started when he was 18 and his relationship had failed. He had tried to find a new girlfriend, but failed, and had started trying to meet girls online.

Ms Lamballe told the court that Johnson accepts that he was looking for girls younger than him, but not underage girls: “He had genuine hopes for a relationship with this girl, who was 15 for the majority of the contact.” The court heard that Johnson has now found work as an auto technician and is in a new relationship – and that his girlfriend’s parents are aware of the charges against him.

Judge Paul Watson told Johnson: “This is not a victimless crime. There are real children often from financially and emotionally deprived backgrounds – they are subjected to unimaginable pain and abuse – so that you, and people like you, can access these images.

“The police also uncovered a conversation between you and a 14-year-old girl that was of a grossly sexual nature. But I’ve read some powerful testimonies about you and of course, the very moving letter from your parents – describing the other side to you, pointing out the sensitive side to your nature.”

The judge handed Johnson a 13-month prison term, suspended for 18 months. He was ordered to attend 25 rehabilitation days and made subject to a five-year sexual harm prevention order, with police notification requirements for the next 10 years.

The judge added: “Probation will work around your full time job. If you start downloading images of children, or chatting to underage girls, you will start that 13 months prison sentence. Is that clear?”.


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