Paedophile posted abuse images online

CLIO FRANCIS AND BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 11:22 24/03/2012
Aaron Paul Laurence
KENT BLECHYNDEN/FAIRFAX NZ
DEPRAVED: Aaron Laurence in Lower Hutt District Court.

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For a decade, a former Wellington art gallery owner committed depraved sex acts on at-risk children, uploading his abuse online to a worldwide audience.

It can now be revealed that Aaron Paul Laurence, 38, has pleaded guilty to more than 60 charges of abuse, including the rape of young boys and the production and distribution of footage of their ordeals.

Details of Laurence's offending were suppressed until yesterday.

When Laurence's stash of illicit child pornography was finally uncovered last year – hidden in a mire of computer encryptions and passwords – police found more than 31,000 images and videos. Many were homemade and detailed his horrific abuse of eight boys, aged between 8 and 13, across the lower North Island. During his appearance in Lower Hutt District Court yesterday, Laurence opposed The Dominion Post's application to photograph him.

His lawyer, Louise Brown, said any photos could impact on his safety in prison and could affect his mother's deteriorating health. Judge Ian Mill said such considerations were not sufficient to replace the principles of open justice.

Laurence once owned an art gallery on Wellington's Lambton Quay, called the Aaron Laurence Gallery.

A local artist, who asked not to be named, said Laurence was "always talking about his sexual prowess".

"He was always a dodgy geezer. He seemed pretty immoral every time you hung out with him. He wasn't exactly someone you wanted to spend extended lengths of time with."

Laurence's prolific offending finally ended when he was caught by police in an online sting in July 2011. A detective was able to monitor an internet chat involving Laurence.

The next day, police observed Laurence making statements that he had abused boys and had images available to download.

The police summary of facts said Laurence sexually abused eight victims, electronically recording his exploits.

"In many instances these boys did not know they were being filmed as the camera was hidden or they were filmed and abused when they were asleep."

Laurence would target vulnerable children and groom victims, the summary said.

In one case, he chatted for weeks to a 13-year-old boy online before meeting him at a train station and taking him to his house. He gave the boy cigarettes and cannabis, causing the boy to become intoxicated. Later he made the boy watch porn and raped him, filming the abuse.

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On another occasion, he befriended an 11-year-old boy and began to sexually abuse him.

"He was a vulnerable young boy from a troubled home and initially felt safe visiting the defendant's house, as he let him play games and gave him ... food," the summary said.

"He admitted knowing that the boys he befriended and then abused were from troubled homes and often had parents who would not be concerned if they did not come home at night."

Laurence had been in possession of the offensive material since the late 1990s and had been producing the footage since 2001, police said.

"The demand for new images results in a continuing cycle of abuse for existing victims and the demand for new victims.

"The defendant has not only sexually offended against his victims, but by photographing, filming and distributing pictures of the abuse, the victims are victimised repeatedly when their images turn up on the internet."

The leader of Police Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand, Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael, said the exploitation of children was a global problem.

"I don't think we could ever say it's an epidemic here but it's certainly in existence and we come across it every day.

"The abuse itself has got younger. We are talking about sexual torture, bondage and discipline type sado-masochistic images involving children."

Judge Mill remanded Laurence in custody for sentencing in May.

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