A paedophile has admitted a raft of horrific offences against children after police successfully infiltrated an international "spider web" of child abusers.
Police say their intervention rescued four New Zealand children, ranging in age from 13 months to 13 years, from further abuse. They have also made 35 referrals to police in Australia, Britain, the United States and Canada.
"This offending is like a spider web which has got wider and wider, involving offenders both here and overseas," said Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael, head of Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand (Oceanz).
As a result of the operation, which began in July last year, Aaron John Ellmers, 41, appeared in Hastings District Court yesterday and admitted multiple child-sex offences that Crown lawyer Steve Manning described as among the country's worst.
One of the offences involved Ellmers offering $500 to another man for "sexual gratification" with his 13-month-old son.
The father from Oamaru, who cannot be named, had posted images of his son on a website. Ellmers, a truck driver from Hastings, was arrested in Christchurch before he could offend against the toddler.
The father will appear in Oamaru District Court next week to face 40 charges including sexual violation, indecent assault, and making, distributing and possessing an objectionable publication.
His son, now 18 months, is in Child, Youth and Family care, but is being looked after by his family.
A third man, 24, of Auckland, has admitted 20 charges of sharing and possessing images of child sexual abuse. He will be sentenced in April.
Mr Michael said the police operation "was fluid and difficult at times" and involved staff across the country and overseas. The method by which the offenders were caught was suppressed by Judge Bridget Mackintosh at Mr Manning's request yesterday.
The judge said the extent of Ellmers' offending made it one of the worst cases she had seen, and she had no hesitation in transferring it to the High Court for sentencing in May. Mr Manning indicated an application for preventive detention would be made.
Ellmers used a camera to record his offending and emailed it to others. Many charges relate to objectionable material involving children as young as six months.
Ellmers, who lived in Australia for nine years from 1999, was deported to New Zealand in 2008 after serving a prison sentence for abusing an 8-year-old boy he had groomed after befriending his parents.
In 2000, he survived a fire that killed 15 people at a backpackers in Childers, near Brisbane. He was later convicted of perjury after lying about Robert Paul Long, the man found guilty of murder for starting the fire.
Despite his record, Mr Michael said Ellmers had not been "on the radar" for police until his involvement with the latest offending, and "we are very keen to get his name in the public arena, as potentially there could be other victims".
Alan Bell, national director of anti-child-abuse organisation Ecpat Child Alert, said the case was a "wake-up call" for New Zealanders, who could no longer pretend such horrific offending happened only overseas.
"This is a very serious case for New Zealand. It should create a strong sense of urgency to strengthen our child protection measures," he said. A "disturbing" pattern was emerging of more-violent sexual abuses against ever-younger children.
"It appears this is an organised crime activity. Hopefully, there will be other children that can be saved now that ring is starting to be broken."
He said that, as a grandfather and father, the idea of accepting money for the abuse of your child was "beyond understanding".
"Some people say poverty is the underlying cause. That's not something I buy in to. They still do have that choice."
CYF operations manager Marama Edwards said the organisation was supporting the families and children involved.
"We have assessed that the children are now safe.
"We congratulate police on breaking up this alleged ring. It is very important that children are protected from this kind of abuse."
GUILTY PLEA TO 60 CHARGES
Hastings truck driver Aaron John Ellmers, 41, has pleaded guilty to 60 charges including: 31 counts under the Crimes Act for sexual offences against victims aged 1 to 13 years, including stupefying. 29 charges under the Films, Videos & Publications Classification Act.
- The Dominion Post