A paedophile has admitted a raft of horrific offences against children after New Zealand police infiltrated an international "spider web" of child abusers.
Aaron John Ellmers, 41, was arrested in Christchurch, and 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.
As a result of the operation, which began last July, Ellmers appeared in the 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 a South Island father for "sexual gratification" with his 18-month-old son.
The Oamaru father, who cannot be named, had posted images of his son on a website.
Ellmers, a Hastings truck driver, was arrested before he could offend against the toddler.
The father will appear in the Oamaru District Court next week to face 40 charges, including sexual violation, indecent assault, and making, distributing and possessing an objectionable publication.
His son is in Child, Youth and Family care but is being looked after by his family.
"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.
A third man, 24, from Auckland, has admitted 20 charges of sharing and possessing images of child sexual abuse. He will be sentenced in April.
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 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.
Ellmers used a camera to record his offending and emailed it to others.
Many charges relate to objectionable material involving children as young as 6 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 the man found guilty of murder for starting the fire.
Despite his record, 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 New Zealanders 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.
CYF operations manager Marama Edwards said the agency was supporting the families and children involved.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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