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Pedophile who ran online network jailed

A Melbourne pedophile who started online groups to share child abuse material described his sexual preference as a nine-year-old boy who never ages.

Nathan Begnell created and controlled two online groups sharing child abuse material with a global network of people who had a sexual interest in young children.

In messages exchanged with members he made sexual comments about boys aged between eight and 12, and expressed a desire for sexual activity with the young relatives of a boy he met online.

Begnell was 18 when he first began communicating with the boy, who was then nine.

The groups Begnell ran had a specific interest in children and an expert found he met the criteria for a paedophilic disorder, County Court Judge Michael Cahill said on Wednesday.

He sentenced Begnell to nine years behind bars.

Begnell told police he believed children aged over 13 were capable of consenting to sexual activity if they were fully informed, but that he wouldn’t get involved with anyone under 16.

One group had 450 members globally at the time of his arrest and contained 1826 images. The other had 19 members and contained 291 images and eight videos.

He also ran a blog connected to one of the groups.

Begnell was arrested in September 2020 and later pleaded guilty to nine charges, including creating and moderating an electronic service used for transmitting child abuse material, and accessing, transmitting, supplying and possessing child abuse material.

Prosecutors said Begnell’s offending involved a high degree of organisation and planning over 29 months between 2018 and 2020.

He used encrypted servers to transmit images and specialist software to remove material from his computer hard drive.

Begnell, who was an SES and CFA volunteer, admitted he had deleted a large amount of child abuse material off his devices in the months before his arrest.

Messages he sent demonstrated a clear sexual interest in pre-pubescent boys, the court heard.

Judge Cahill said Begnell had pleaded guilty at an early stage and made frank admissions when questioned by police.

He also noted Begnell’s unstable upbringing and mental disorders, which reduced his moral culpability.

His prospects of rehabilitation were reasonable, he said.

With time served, Begnell will be eligible for parole in three years. He has been registered as a sex offender for life.

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