A child sex abuse case became so vast due to the number of victims and seriousness of the charges it was radically upgraded from an investigation to a full-scale operation, Dungannon Crown Court has heard.
The majority of abusive imagery seized was at the highest category of seriousness and much of the details of offending are too extreme to report but in some involved inciting two brothers aged around 12 to carry out sexual acts on each other.
In what became Operation Luller, Gerard Murray (36) originally of Melvin Court, Strabane but remanded in custody since his arrest, admitted 152 counts.
This comprised 65 for making indecent images, 27 of sexual communication, 32 of inciting a child sexual activity, 10 of causing a child to watch sexual activity, seven of causing a child sexual activity, four of causing a child to watch sexual activity, three of possessing indecent imagery, two of paying for sexual services of a child and single counts of blackmail and harassment.
Offending occurred between July 2016 and January 2021 and included Murray obtaining sexual services for payment from two of the child victims and making an unwarranted demand for money.
On arrest initially for blackmailing his single adult victim, 12 devices were seized and examination led to the investigation being significantly ramped up.
Described as “not the average case”, Murray used blackmail and images to obtain a hold over victims.
Of 134,000 images and videos recovered, 100,000 were created by Murray, who “did not generally look at images of children being abused on the internet but wanted to create victims and his own images”.
Police found abuse perpetrated on 79 individual victims, 37 of whom were identified.
After a number of delays Murray, who told police he was sexually attracted to teenagers but later resiled from this, appeared for sentencing today (Thursday) before Judge Brian Sherrard, who noted the victim who came forward “is owed a debt of gratitude by our community in bringing these offences to the fore”.
Using a female profile, Murray provoked this victim to send an image of himself, then threatened to send this to his family and workmates if funds weren’t handed over.
The communication was accompanied by details of how to make payment.
When arrested, Murray refused to provide the PIN for his phone, insisting it contained no indecent images.
Analysis however revealed he used made-up female profiles containing sexualised images, adding hundreds of young boys on Snapchat, generally ranging from 10 years-of-age onwards.
In a particularly serious incident, a recording on Murray’s phone showed him having sex with a boy, over whom he held “power and control”.
Communications revealed what he would do to him, and the obsession with this child continued after arrest, when Murray sent him a letter from custody.
This victim described what he had endured as “torture” while many other described longstanding trauma.
Judge Sherrard said: “The sheer number of offences is overwhelming. … The court cannot help but be stunned … This was gross depravity. You used considerable skill in grooming over five years, involving threats, promises and gifts in order to have your way.”
While Probation Services assessed Murray as dangerous, including through deviant interest in children, lack of regard for victims and premeditated creation of opportunities for offending, Judge Sherrard ruled, “it is clear you present a danger to our community, but the threshold for the legal definition of dangerous is not met”.
He imposed prison terms to a combined total of 10 years, to be served half in custody and the remainder on licence.
Murray was made subject to Sexual Offender Registration and a Sexual Offences Prevention Order indefinitely.