Man Sentenced Over Child Abuse Ring

A children's outdoor activity centre manager who pretended to be a woman in order to be accepted as a member of a nudist website which encourage child abuse was jailed for four years today.

Jonathan Garner-Harris, a deputy director of the Marrick Priory centre in Marrick, near Richmond, North Yorkshire, was the ninth member of an international paedophile network to be dealt with by the courts.

The 37-year-old was investigated by Durham Police and pleaded guilty at Durham Crown Court to 20 offences.

His case was transferred to Portsmouth Crown Court where he was sentenced by Judge Roger Hetherington who heard a six-week trial involving other members of the ring which abused two young children.

Garner-Harris was jailed for four years concurrent for three charges of inciting a child sex offence and four months concurrent for each of 17 counts relating to indecent photos of children.

Ringleader Robert Hathaway, 37, of Tyseley Road in Portsmouth was previously sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of 12 years along with his partner Melissa Noon, 30, who was jailed for four years.

The trial heard that the ring used a nudist website as a cover for their perversions.

The court was told that Garner-Harris, who appeared by video-link, was involved in internet chat with Hathaway during which he encouraged the Portsmouth-based offender to abuse the two young children.

Kerry Maylin, prosecuting, told the court that Garner-Harris pretended to be a woman and invented a daughter, aged between 12 and 14, in order to be accepted by other members of the nudist website who were based in the UK, Australia and America.

She said that he had used computers at his parent's home in Chester-Le-Street, but also at the Marrick Priory where he worked to carry out the explicit chat and to look at the indecent images.

She said:

''Like others involved, he used the guise of being interested in nudism to keep in contact with people who had similar sexual interest in children.

''This quickly turned to sexually explicit conversations about children.''

She said that during interviews with police, Garner-Harris said he had been acting out a ''fantasy'' and had not intended to hurt anyone and had shown remorse for his actions.

Amanda Rippon, defending, added:

''He is a man who has devastated his good character.

''He was extremely well thought of, not only in his community but in his church.

''His family has been absolutely devastated by this and he is acutely aware of the misery he has heaped on their heads.''

Sentencing Garner- Harris, Judge Hetherington said:

''I accept that Robert Hathaway needed no specific encouragement from you to commit these sort of offences but your part in fuelling his offending in these chats was, along with others, an important contribution towards the abuse of these two young children.

''It's quite apparent to me that Hathaway fed off that encouragement and you, no doubt, derived gratification from the influence you were exerting.''

The Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC has applied to the Court of Appeal for permission to refer the sentences of Hathaway, Noon and a third defendant, Simon Hilton, as he believes their sentences may have been ''unduly lenient''.

Hilton, 29, of Wolsey Road, north London, was imprisoned for four years with an extended licence period of six years.

Hampshire police launched their investigation into the ring after being tipped off by the authorities in Australia, who had uncovered a ''mirror image'' ring in Brisbane and Sydney which also abused at least one young child.

A total of 2,000 pages of chat logs were uncovered by police, as well as 14,000 indecent images of children and 300 videos of children being abused.

Miss Maylin described the case as ''horrific'' and said the victims were ''systematically and repeatedly'' raped by Hathaway and sexually assaulted on a daily basis.

The abuse was documented with thousands of photographs and videos, some as long as 42 minutes, which were distributed by Hathaway over the internet.