Four German men were jailed on Tuesday for involvement in a child sex ring that horrified the country and triggered far-reaching reform of child pornography laws.
A court in the western city of Münster imposed sentences of between 10 and 14 years on the men, followed by preventative detention, for imprisoning, drugging and raping children in an allotment shed.
The men filmed their assaults and uploaded to the internet what presiding judge Matthias Pheiler called “horrific and deeply disturbing footage”.
In addition the court jailed for five years the mother of one of the main defendants. Prosecutors said the woman, owner of the shed, was aware of the abuse and even brought the men breakfast while they were abusing children. Among their victims was the main perpetrator’s stepson.
“The proceedings showed clearly how paedophiles operate,” the judge said. “They trick, they lie, they manipulate those around the victims.”
The main defendant, a computer technician named only as Adrian V, was the first to imprison boys in the family shed. Over the course of three days, with accomplices aged between 31 and 43, he drugged and raped the boys repeatedly. The court was shown more than 30 hours of video evidence uploaded to darknet forums.
The court heard that Adrian V was an IT technician by trade and was shown images of his apartment with metal shelves filled with computer servers and extensive cables and other technical equipment. In total a police investigation turned up 1,200 terabytes of child sexual abuse material on 2,520 storage devices.
“Even the most experienced criminal investigators have come up against the limits of what is humanly tolerable – and beyond,” said Münster police chief Rainer Further.
The trial was an embarrassment for authorities in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, given that over a year passed between the first tip-off and the 27-year-old’s eventual arrest in May of last year. During this time the man, who had two previous suspended sentences for possessing child sex-abuse material, was still living with his partner and stepson.
Police investigators said they were relieved the defendants remained silent on the charges against them, making it unnecessary for their victims to have to testify in court. They are still viewing the video evidence recovered, the court heard, and have already used it to identify some 50 suspects from around Europe, of whom 30 are in custody. The German case has already led to five other convictions.
Child-protection groups say the Münster case, the third such paedophile ring to be uncovered in the last two years in Germany, should be an alarm call for authorities to force greater communication between police, courts and child-protection authorities.
In response to the series of cases, the German parliament in March agreed tougher punishments for using and sharing child pornography. The law also gives police and prosecutors broader powers to monitor online communication of suspects.