19 February 2018
A depraved university academic has today been jailed for 32 years after admitting 137 ‘hurt core’ charges.
Cambridge University graduate Dr Matthew Falder, who called himself ‘evilmind’ and ‘666devil’ during years of horrific online offending, closed his eyes as he was sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court.
He was given a 32 year prison sentence with an extended period of six years on licence. He was also made the subject of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and placed on the sex offenders' register
The geophysicist, 29, of Edgbaston, Birmingham, who is originally from Cheshire, admitted the huge number of counts – which included encouraging the rape of a four-year-old boy – after a tenacious National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation.
Falder boasted that he would never be caught and said he did not care if his victims lived or died.
He approached more than 300 people worldwide with 45 victims represented on the court indictment against him.
He tricked vulnerable victims – from young teenagers to adults - into sending him naked or partially clothed images of themselves.
Falder approached them on Gumtree, masquerading as a depressed female artist and offering money for artistically posed photographs.
He used anonymising web software to blackmail victims into sending him increasingly sickening images – whose poses he directed – by threatening to send the original pictures to their family, friends, employers and school pals.
Some of the victims were so terrified they felt they had no choice but to comply. Falder also traded the abuse pictures on ‘hurt core’ forums whose users revel in controlling and inflicting pain on victims.
These hurt core hidden dark-web forums were dedicated to the discussion, image and video sharing of rape, murder, sadism, torture, paedophilia, blackmail, humiliation and degradation.
Judge Philip Parker QC described Falder as an "internet highwayman" who had a lust for controlling and tormenting victims.
"It is a tale of ever-increasing depravity," he said.
"The effects on the girls, women and men were devastating.
"The damage is ongoing for these individuals.
"It will never end.
"Time and again people begged you to stop. Time and again you ramped up the pressure."
In 2012 the NCA and international law enforcement became aware of a UK-based suspect using the name ‘Inthegarden’ to post blackmail images of a teenage girl on a site called Hurt 2 The Core (H2TC) – considered by investigators at the time to be the world’s worst website.
Using online anonymising techniques he remained hidden, however a handful of victims reported the abuse to local police forces.
Despite painstaking analysis of all material obtained, the offender could not be identified.
The investigation continued and in April 2015, the NCA began investigating a forum user called ‘666devil’, who was using a picture of a young girl as his avatar, and claiming she was his daughter.
In one post he described his plan to torture her during what he dubbed ‘hell week’.
He requested ideas from other forum members about what he could do to hurt and abuse her.
It was soon established that ‘666devil’ also used the online name ‘evilmind’.
The NCA conducted an extensive intelligence operation to identify the child used as the suspect’s avatar.
The investigation established that ‘evilmind’, ‘666devil’ and ‘Inthegarden’ were the same person, and that he had approached more than 300 individuals worldwide.
Each of the these 300 individuals was reviewed by the NCA’s in-house child protection advisors to plan safeguarding work.
Investigators discovered Falder was using online webmail and within these accounts were the original pictures of the ‘daughter’.
In August 2015, the girl was identified and safeguarded.
Investigators were satisfied that the suspect did not have access to her. But still no intelligence from the accounts was able to identify the offender.
Analysis of this material also identified US victims – one of whom was being discussed on a hurt core forum.
The NCA set up a taskforce involving the US (Homeland Security Investigations), Australia (Australian Federal Police) and Europol to share and develop intelligence against the suspect and online anonymity in general. GCHQ and other national and international partners also supported the investigation.
This partnership produced a breakthrough in early 2017 and Falder was linked to the offending.
This culminated in his arrest on 21 June at Birmingham University where he worked as a postdoctoral researcher.
Investigators discovered two media devices containing significant evidence which also proved he had installed hidden cameras at a variety of locations to secretly film adults he knew showering.
Falder was questioned over three days, but answered no comment.
He eventually provided two prepared statements, in one, admitting that he controlled the ‘evilmind’ account.
He was remanded in custody and has remained there since.
Matt Sutton, NCA senior investigating officer, said: “In more than 30 years of law enforcement I’ve never come across an offender whose sole motivation was to inflict such profound anguish and pain. Matthew Falder revelled in it.
“I’ve also never known such an extremely complex investigation with an offender who was technologically savvy and able to stay hidden in the darkest recesses of the dark web.
“This investigation represents a watershed moment.
“Falder is not alone so we will continue to develop and deliver our capabilities nationally for the whole law enforcement system to stop offenders like him from wrecking innocent lives.
“I commend the victims for their bravery and I urge anyone who is being abused online to report it. There is help available.”
Ruona Iguyovwe, from the Crown Prosecution Service’s International Justice and Organised Crime Division, said: “Matthew Falder is a highly manipulative individual who clearly enjoyed humiliating his many victims and the impact of his offending has been significant.
“He deliberately targeted young and vulnerable victims.
“There was a high degree of sophistication and significant planning by Falder due to his encryption of software and technology in his electronic communication, and the use of multiple fake online identities and encrypted email addresses.
“The CPS worked with the National Crime Agency and international partners from an early stage in order to gather compelling evidence against Falder, resulting in his guilty pleas."
Advice for children and young people
If you have been pressured into sending sexual images or videos online and you have been threatened as a result, this is blackmail and you are not to blame. Remove yourself from the conversation, do not respond further and speak to an adult you trust.
You can also report to CEOP who can offer you advice and support - www.ceop.police.uk.
For further online safety advice visit www.thinkuknow.co.uk, and for confidential support call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.
Advice for adults victims of blackmail
Report to your local police force, who will deal with your report in confidence and will not judge you;
Don’t communicate – further with the offender, if you can take screenshots, suspend your account (but don’t delete it) and also make use of any online reporting options via the platform the communication took place.
If possible make a note of all the details provided by the offender and do not delete any correspondence.
If you are concerned about your safety online please visit www.getsafeonline.org or call the Samaritans on 116 123 for confidential support.
Additional support services
Child protection charity The Lucy Faithfull Foundation also runs the Stop It Now! helpline – 0808 1000 900 – which offers confidential advice to anyone concerned about their own or someone else’s behaviour towards children. www.lucyfaithfull.org.uk.
Papyrus provide confidential advice and support and works to prevent young suicide in the UK. Call 0800 068 4141.