Australian Federal Police have laid an additional 80 charges on a 29-year-old Wyong man, who was the first offender arrested under the child protection investigation known as Operation Arkstone.
Operation Arkstone is a national investigation, led by the AFP, which uncovered an Australian online network of alleged offenders accused of abusing and exploiting Australian children, and sharing the abuse online.
The investigation began in early 2020 after a tip-off from the United States’ National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children to the AFP’s Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).
The Wyong man was arrested in February 2020 for allegedly distributing and receiving child abuse material online, and initially charged with nine offences. Investigators followed the digital trail from seized electronic materials during the search warrant at his home, to uncover other alleged offenders across Australia and make further arrests, which became Operation Arkstone.
The man appeared before Wyong Local Court on Tuesday, 4 August, and was charged with 80 new offences relating to the abuse of a child known to him, and the sharing of this material online.
The charges were laid as a result of follow-up enquiries by members of the AFP’s Eastern Command Child Protection Operations team, including the forensic examination of material seized during the February warrant at his home.
It will be alleged in court that material on the man’s electronic devices and cloud storage services linked to him provided evidence he was abusing a child known to him, recording it and sharing images or footage online with other like-minded individuals.
The new charges against the Wyong man include:
Operation Arkstone is still ongoing and it is likely further victims and offenders will be identified, and further arrests have not been ruled out.
AFP Eastern Command Child Protection Operations Detective Sergeant Joel Wheeler said this operation serves as a warning to online offenders – the internet does not provide an anonymous veil.
“Operation Arkstone has uncovered this network of alleged offenders thanks to the dedicated work of our investigators, digital forensics specialists and our Interpol-trained victim identification experts,” Detective Sergeant Wheeler said.
“They had to comb hours of disturbing content looking for clues to find these people allegedly preying on Australian children, to bring them to justice. We are continuing to try to identify others who are involved in this disturbing network, and hunt them down and unmask them from the anonymity of the internet and put them before the courts.”
This operation was conducted with the support of United States Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) under HSI’s Operation Predator - an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators.
Adam Parks, the HSI Attaché to Australia, said the sexual abuse of children is a shameful, despicable practice.
“HSI is committed to working with our international partners to pursue justice on behalf of the victims of this heinous crime. Child predators are on notice that the relationship between the AFP and HSI is an unbreakable alliance. Together, we will relentlessly pursue those who would seek to harm the vulnerable.”
The AFP’s Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation – which is headquartered in Brisbane and is co-ordinating Operation Arkstone - is at the centre of a collaborative national approach to combatting organised child abuse.
Detective Superintendent Paula Hudson of the ACCCE and AFP Child Protection Operation said investigators at the ACCCE use a range of technologies and methodologies across both the dark and clear net working tirelessly to de-anonymise people who choose to transmit, exchange and share child exploitation material.
“Our message to offenders is we will identify and arrest you,” Detective Superintendent Hudson said.
The ACCCE brings together specialist expertise and skills in a central hub, supporting investigations into child sexual abuse and developing prevention strategies focused on creating a safer online environment.
Members of the public who have any information about people involved in child abuse and exploitation are urged to call Crime stoppers on 1800 333 000.
You can also make a report online by alerting the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation via the Report Abuse button at www.accce.gov.au/report.
Access online safety information at https://www.accce.gov.au/resources
Notes to media:
Media are reminded of their obligations to protect the identity of child victims and victims of sexual assault under s15A of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987 (NSW) and s105 of the Children and Young Person (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW).
AFP National Media: (02) 5126 9297